Tag Archives: solar

Maryland Homeowners — Get Ready for the Clean Energy Loan Program

One reason more people don’t install solar or other renewable-energy projects on their homes is that they might move before realizing all the energy savings.  If you borrowed money (even from yourself) for the installation, that loan moves with you and the solar cells stay behind.  It just doesn’t pay.

One way to fix this problem is to fund the home renewable projects with loans secured by the property.  The loan is paid back through a surcharge on property taxes.  If you move, the project stays behind and so does the loan.  It’s called Property Assessed Clean Energy and is taking off around the nation.

Maryland localities have expressed interest; Montgomery County has enacted legislation establishing a loan program.  Governor O’Malley signed legislation on May 19, 2009, authorizing localities to issue bonds to support Clean Energy Loan Programs.

New legislation is pending in Annapolis — SB 720/HB 1014 — that would clarify state guidelines and encourage other localities to get on board.  MEA and MCEC would provide training and other support statewide.  Delegate Sue Hecht of Frederick City is leading the charge.

The impact of the Clean Energy Loan Program would be multiplied if another proposed bill also wins passage: SB 50/HB 801.  It expands net metering by requiring the electric utility to pay money when a customer generates more power than they use (currently, homeowners only get a credit against the amount of power they use).  Small businesses and local governments could also benefit.  Here is an analysis of the proposal.

Home solar seems poised for lift-off in Maryland!


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A Maryland Strategy for Summer Peak Demand?

Peak summer demand drives the electricity system in important ways.  It determines the minimum amount of generating and transmission capacity that must be on hand.  It drives costs as generation capacity must be kept on standby for peak periods.  Peak demand activates more costly, less efficient and even more polluting generation capacity.  Projected increases in peak demand may tempt system planners into wasteful and controversial transmission expansion plans.  And Maryland clearly needs more leverage in regional power markets.

There must be a better way.  There is — take targeted measures to lower peak demand.

The steady growth of peak demand arises largely from the design of our power market that shelters users from the actual costs of generating power during the hot summer months.  If those astronomical costs were passed through, hour by hour, then users would have a strong incentive to cut back.  Until political leaders are willing to inflict those costs on voters (instead of spreading them over twelve months of electric bills), we need other tools.

The problem centers mainly on air conditioning usage by residential and commercial customers during periods of hot and humid weather.  Thanks the climate change, this will only be more of a challenge in coming decades.

By moderating electricity consumption during hot summer months, we can better control the financial and environmental costs of our power system.

Here are some steps we can take:

1. Cool Roofs.  Roofs that reflect the heat of the sun can lower cooling costs significantly.  While buildings and conditions vary widely, an EPA report found an average savings of 20 percent.

2. Solar PV. The installation of photovoltaic systems on homes, farms and businesses could be greatly accelerated through a program modeled on Germany’s highly successful “Feed-in Tariff.”  After all, there is plenty of sun on hot summer days.  It’s a dependable source of peak power.  SB 355, introduced by Maryland Senator Pinsky and six others is a positive step in this direction.

3. Ice Storage. New systems that retrofit onto existing commercial AC units use cheap power at night to make ice.  During the day, AC refrigerant is cooled by the ice instead of the AC’s compressor, cutting power use dramatically.  The Southern California Public Power Authority has announced a utility-scale project with Ice Energy.

4. Demand-side management. This term includes programs that allow utilities to control residential air conditioners from a central location, through radio or internet controlled switches mounted on AC units.  Customers get a lower bill in exchange for allowing the utility to cycle off their AC for a few minutes every hour.  A local example is the Pepco’s Energy Wise Rewards program.  (This is a revival of Pepco’s similar Kilowatchers plan that was strangled in 2004 by the perverse incentives of Maryland’s deregulation legislation; 162,000 customers took part according to the utility.)

5. Weatherization. We often associate improved insulation with warmth in winer but it also pays off during the hot months.

6. Energy-efficient air conditioning.  Incentives are available to help homeowners replace their old AC units with more efficient ones.  However, without the other elements of a comprehensive strategy for managing peak demand, this step by itself may not be the most cost-effective one for homeowners or society as a whole.

Bits and pieces of this approach are available in Maryland already.  To really make a difference, these components need to be highlighted and accelerated.  The hot days of summer are only a few months away!


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Rooftop Solar With A Twist — And Turn!

Concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) often means acres and acres in the desert. But soon it could be on rooftops in Maryland.

Former NASA engineers have formed a company — Soliant Energy — that aims to use small, sun-tracking Fresnel lenses to boost the output of rooftop-mounted PV systems.  We have vast amounts of unused rooftops, from “bigbox” stores and warehouses to office buildings to parking garages — that could all be producing electricity.

Soliant’s testing shows that their system can achieve “20-30% more kilowatt-hours per system compared to stationary, nontracking installations.” While this gain is typical of CPV, Soliant will turn out small modules that don’t require a lot of space.

Soliant has also gotten a vote of confidence in the form of venture capital from GE.

Innovators like Soliant illustrate the trend of electricity production: clean, distributed and small scale.  The critical factor is innovation in manufacturing that makes each unit cheaper and easier to install.

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Maryland: Vote for OGZEB!


OGZEB stands for “off-grid zero-emissions building.” And it’s already here.

OGZEB is a project of Florida State University’s Energy and Sustainability Center and uses the LEED system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Along with passive solar design features, OGZEB uses solar PV to generate electricity which is stored using a hydrogen system:

The OGZEB will use the excess energy produced by the photovoltaic (PV) panels, also known as solar panels, to produce hydrogen.  This hydrogen will be produced using a highly efficient water electrolysis device that is currently being developed at the Sustainable Energy Science and Engineering Center (SESEC).  It will be stored until energy is required by the house, at which time the hydrogen will be fed to an innovative fuel cell, which is also being developed at SESEC. The fuel cell will convert the hydrogen to the energy that the house needs.  This project will not be the first to use hydrogen as an energy storage medium, but it will be the first to employ innovative and affordable hydrogen technologies that are being developed at FSU and not currently commercially available.

The house can store about 30 days’ worth of hydrogen, more than enough to get through a cloudy week.

The Baltimore Sun reported the cost to be $575,000.  Back-of-the-envelope says that’s about two to three times as expensive as a comparable grid-connected house.  That’s before you factor in zero energy bills — forever.

So the technology is here.  It will get cheaper and better through innovation and manufacturing improvements — learning by doing.  The real substitute for fossil fuels like coal is not simply more nukes or more renewables.  Instead, the real substitutes are innovation, engineering and manufacturing.  These will improve renewables and increase energy efficiency.  By directing talented young people into these activities we can secure our future and avoid wasteful investments in hugely expensive nuclear power stations, coal-by-wire transmission projects and destructive mountaintop removal.

Actually, it’s not much of a choice.  Maryland, and our neighbors in Virginia and West Virginia, can pretend that these innovations are not happening. But it is happening…in Florida and all around the world.  The technology will advance no matter what we in Maryland, Virginia or West Virginia, do.  The only question is how far behind we will be when we finally wake up.

We can continue to invest in obsolete fossil-fuel infrastructure because that’s what the industry lobbyists and their politician friends tell us to do.  The barriers to the low-carbon economy of the future are not technological or economic.  The main barrier is political.

The best reason to vote for OGZEB?  No need to worry about grid-transmitted blackouts!

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Do-It-Yourself Energy Policy

Tired of waiting for the politicians and utility lobbyists to finish squabbling over our money?

The Mount Pleasant Solar Cooperative in Washington, D.C. is working to make rooftop solar more affordable in their neighborhood.

They are having an open house this weekend.  You’re invited!

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