[NEREJ Feature] The End of Year is a Good Time to Take a Look at Your Energy Strategy

We all know the drill. As the year comes to a close, we begin thinking about new plans for the coming year. We have great visions for new priorities and projects and finally addressing those nagging issues that we didn’t get to this year. Then reality sets in; from end-of-year reporting to holiday parties, it seems none of us has a moment to breathe as the calendar turns over into a new year.

One area that usually falls victim to this cycle of good intentions is your energy strategy. Business and property owners along with facility and operations managers continually face challenges and opportunities to improve their approaches to energy management, but often lack the ability to look holistically at their options and prioritize their investments. End of year is a good time to take a look at your energy strategy, and in an effort to keep you on schedule, we have developed the following checklist to make it easier.

Lighting: Making the switch to LED efficient bulbs typically results in immediate, significant savings. It also creates an optimal visual environment for employees during work hours. There are also many different forms of lighting controls that you can implement to help curb costs,including occupancy sensors, which operate only when a room is occupied, and daylight harvesting, which utilizes natural sunlight in the building to automatically adjust lighting to optimum levels.

Automation/Controls: Heating, ventilation, air conditioning and other operating equipment have a major impact on energy use in commercial facilities. Energy Management Systems (EMS) are a seamless and cost-effective automation solution which allow equipment to run on different schedules and turn-off or power-down when they are not needed.

 

Operating Equipment: On a similar note, replacing old operating systems—like water heaters and furnaces with new energy-efficient models can greatly reduce energy use and, thus, costs.

 

 

Building Envelope: A big part of energy efficiency is making sure that the energy you’re expending to heat and cool a building is being contained within the building and not leaking out. Buildings that are properly insulated and contain efficient windows ensure that the energy circulating within the building is kept inside.

 

Optimizing your energy use requires taking a closer look at your building’s mechanical systems in order to identify any inefficiencies and waste. It requires monitoring and collecting data in order to analyze energy use and understand what is needed to maximize return on your energy systems. There are a number of tools and practices that can be used to help businesses improve their energy usage.

Energy Storage: Many utilities have been increasing demand charges for customers which can account for up to 70% of your energy bill. Demand charges are based on your monthly peak load, and energy storage can be used to smooth out those peaks and reduce your demand charges. Costs for energy storage systems have rapidly declined in recent years and offer compelling paybacks for anyone with high demand charges.

Smart controls: Smart controls are advanced technology systems that use a computerized network of electronic devices to control and monitor all energy systems in a building including mechanical, electrical, lighting and others. They analyze data taken from the energy systems and compare that data to the control system settings. If the data received is outside the acceptable range recognized by the control system, it will issue changes and manage the equipment to set it back to an acceptable range.

Monitoring energy use: Monitoring tools are similar to smart controls but they analyze energy performance more broadly and help you make smart decisions about how best to make adjustments. For example, the EPA’s Energy Star program has a tool called Portfolio Manager that can measure and track elements such as energy and water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Solar: Solar PV (photovoltaic systems) are exceptionally impactful forms of on-site energy that directly convert sunlight into serviceable electricity. If your system produces more electricity than needed, the extra electricity typically gets delivered back to the utility grid, allocating a credit for the electricity your system contributes to the grid (net-metering). Making the commitment to on-site solar generation enables businesses to reap the benefits of state and federal solar incentives, enabling cost savings while meeting long-term sustainability goals.

Along with solar, additional renewable energy technologies such as wind turbines and Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems are effective solutions to substantially manage energy costs.

Hopefully this checklist will help you frame your options for your major energy initiatives for 2018. As you take stock of where you are and develop your priorities, there are many energy management companies that can help you assess your options, often for free. So don’t wait, start your check list, prioritize it, and reach out to a professional if you need help deciding the best options.

To read the article and more like it on the NEREJ website, click the link below.

 

 

Solar Houses of Worship: Success Stories

Houses of Worship, much like other non-profit entities, are in a unique situation when it comes to deploying solar. As good stewards for responsible and sustainable living the concept of solar alone aligns with many of their goals. By installing cleaner, less expensive energy they are not only able to make the altruistic choice for sourcing their electricity, but are also able to reallocate the money they’re saving on their energy bills to supporting their other goals and initiatives. However, as non-profit entities they are unable to take advantage of the tax benefits that help make installing solar more affordable for residents and businesses, and often times don’t have the cash flow or capital to invest in purchasing a system outright. So, while the concept of solar is a perfect fit, the logistics can be challenging. The answer? Power Purchase Agreements or “PPA’s”.  Under a PPA agreement they lease their roof space to a solar provider who will install, own, and operate the array while selling the power it generates to the tenants at a rate far below their utility energy costs. This allows houses of worship to go solar with nearly no initial costs, while reaping the benefits of cleaner, less expensive energy.

We’ve worked with a variety of congregations to make solar a reality, and while the faith being practiced within the building changes, the results remain the same. Below are some examples of projects where we’ve worked to install solar for religions institutions big and small. Proof that you can have faith in solar.

Temple Aliyah

Size: 81 kW
Type: Rooftop Array
Location: Needham, MA
Owner: Solect Energy
PowerOptions: Yes
Impact: The solar array consists of 265 photovoltaic (PV) panels and is expected to produce 85,170 kilowatt hours (kwH) of energy annually. The power generated will cover 92 percent of the synagogue’s energy needs. It is projected that Temple Aliyah will save approximately $6,600 in energy expenses in the first year, and nearly $245,000 over the course of 20 years.

 

Temple Beth Elohim

Size: 37 kW
Type: Rooftop Array
Location: Wellesley, MA
Owner: Solect Energy
PowerOptions: Yes
Impact: Solar generation works differently under municipal utilities than it does in an investor-owned territory with utilities like Eversource and National Grid. Wellesley is one of 41 towns in Massachusetts that purchase power from the electric utility owned by the municipality, in this case, the Wellesley Municipal Light Plant (“WMLP”). Massachusetts laws require the utility to be the reseller of power to its customers within the town boundaries. Making the array a reality required a PPA with the WMLP. Under the agreement, the power generated from the array is purchased by the WMLP, who then sells it to the Temple. Now complete, the solar array is a significant addition to the congregation’s efforts toward sustainability.

Bethany Community Church

Size: 157 kW
Type: Rooftop Array
Location: Mendon, MA
Owner: Solect Energy
PowerOptions: No
Impact: Through site leasing and Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) struck with the church, Solect will own the system and provide electricity Bethany at a significantly reduced rate. The facility is expected to see a 40% savings over its current energy costs.

 

Faith Community Church

Size: 180 kW
Type: Rooftop Array
Location: Hopkinton, MA
Owner: Solect Energy
PowerOptions: No
Impact: Through site leasing and Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) struck with the church, Solect will own the system and provide electricity to the 80,000-square foot facility at a significantly reduced rate. The system will satisfy approximately 80% of Faith Community Church’s electrical usage.

 

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Size: 9 kW
Type: Rooftop Array
Location: Hopkinton, MA
Owner: Solect Energy
PowerOptions: No
Impact: Solect will own the system and provide electricity to St. Paul’s at a significantly reduced rate, allowing the church to invest the savings in their mission programs. The system will satisfy approximately 75% of St. Paul’s electricity usage.

 

Insights: ITC Should Focus on Economic Benefits of Solar Panel Tariff Case

– Feature –

Ken Driscoll, Founder & CEO  Solect Energy

The solar energy industry in the US is facing an existential threat. Solar energy developers, installers, investors and manufacturers have been anxiously awaiting a decision by the International Trade Commission (ITC) on a suit that was initiated by two bankrupt solar panel manufacturers – Suniva, Inc. and SolarWorld Americas, Inc. – who are seeking damages in the form of high import tariffs and quotas limiting the import of Chinese solar panels. On September 22nd, the ITC ruled in favor of Suniva and SolarWorld and found “injury”.On October 31st, the 5 ITC commissioners released a range of potential remedies and will make a final report to the President by November 13th.

The preliminary ITC recommendations have given the solar industry a glimpse into what the potential effects could be. The more severe options (those with high tariffs and low import quotas) could dramatically increase the costs of solar panels and severely depress solar energy markets across the nation; effectively throwing a wet blanket on the vibrant solar energy industry and threatening 374,000 US jobs.

In deciding the most appropriate course of action for potential remedies, the ITC and ultimately the President, are required by law to ensure that the economic benefits outweigh the costs. Although it is important to protect US manufacturing, in this case we need to recognize that the companies that filed the suit are both majority owned by foreign entities and are no longer operating. Draconian tariffs, as articulated by some of the more severe recommendations proposed by the ITC, could cost the industry tens of thousands of jobs. Indeed there are currently no major solar panel manufacturers in the US that would benefit from the tariffs and quotas, but there are many other domestic manufacturers of other solar components such as inverters or racking systems that would be hurt by a slowdown in solar installations – not to mention the thousands of installation workers that would undoubtedly suffer layoffs.  

Of the options floated by the ITC, Commissioner Meredith Broadbent has put forward the most thoughtful set of remedies. Recognizing that more harm than good could can come from severe import restrictions, she has suggested a reasonable balance that better reflects the current market realities, along with more creative options such as import license fees that would aid US manufacturing companies and allow them to compete with foreign panel suppliers.

Closer to home, the solar energy industry has become an important part of the Massachusetts economy, employing over 14,000 workers and representing $4.7B in investment. Both the legislature and the Governor’s Office (former and present) deserve credit for creating solar energy policies that have provided flexibility to adjust to new market conditions. This has produced a stable growth environment that has created thousands of good jobs and has allowed energy consumers to save money and reduce emissions.

Governor Baker was one of four Governors who asked the ITC not to impose tariffs, joining 27 solar equipment manufacturers, 16 US Senators and 53 members of the House who requested the petition be thrown out. No matter the outcome of the ITC case, we value Massachusetts’ forward-looking vision and hope that our Federal Government has the same foresight or the rest of the industry and country will likely pay the price.

Looking Back, Looking Forward: An Interview with Solect Energy’s Founder and CEO Ken Driscoll

 

Ken Driscoll, Founder CEO Solect Energy

What prompted you to start Solect Energy 8 years ago?

Craig, Jim and I, the three founders of Solect, all had well-established careers at large, high tech and financial companies. However, we were eager to build a business from the ground up that reflected our values and to foster a company culture that supported those values. We were intrigued with how the internet was disrupting how business was conducted, bringing new efficiencies and cost savings. We looked around for the next disruptive technology on the horizon that would deliver big rewards for customers, and we saw solar as a promising opportunity.

Why did you focus on the business market vs. the residential or utility-scale markets?

As we explored the opportunities for a new company in solar, it was clear there were already large players in the residential and utility-scale spaces.  What we did not see was a solar company selling to the commercial and industrial (C&I) markets, essentially solar for mid-sized businesses and organizations. Selling to businesses was a focus for all of us in our previous careers. So we honed in on this important market that was not being served by this new technology. From our previous experience we knew that sharp, mid-market business folks would quickly appreciate the value propositions of solar. We were also steeped in a commitment to customer service.  We knew we could translate these skills to our solar customers to ensure they were getting a superior experience and value.  And this has been a key differentiator for us.

What have been the most important lessons learned along the way?

Community is important.  We have deep roots in Hopkinton, and we’re committed to staying active, volunteering and giving back to the local communities where we live and work.

The customer experience is paramount.  We want our customers to have an outstanding experience from the moment we first meet with them, through the time their array is turned on, and for the next 20 years as we maintain and optimize their system.  

Lastly, hire the best people, and give them measurable goals to work toward.  We pride ourselves on what we call KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), and we evaluate them on a quarterly basis.  

What will the future bring?

We are thrilled with how far Solect Energy has come. Our strategy has been validated. An analysis of Massachusetts Department of Energy (DOER) data, and rankings from Solar Power World and Inc. magazine show that we once again achieved the top ranking for commercial-scale, solar rooftop providers in Massachusetts.

Moving forward the goal is two-fold:  to extend the benefits of solar with new technologies such as storage.  And 2) to continue to broaden into new regions where businesses and non-profits are eager to harness the power of solar to substantially reduce their energy expenditures.

 

Solar Powered Manufacturing

 

With a long and proud history in Massachusetts, manufacturing in the state is alive and well. The Commonwealth has worked hard to make sure it offers manufacturing companies a healthy business climate and a terrific work force. However, to be successful in today’s ultra-competitive manufacturing climate, companies need to take advantage of every opportunity they can to reduce costs. One way that manufacturers are able to improve their bottom line is to reduce their energy expenses, and in recent years we have seen many companies install solar energy systems to save money and reduce their emissions.  In honor of our State’s manufacturers, we are highlighting  a few examples of manufacturing companies that we have worked with to install solar energy systems.

 

Swissturn

Size: 135 kW
Location: Oxford, MA
Date Installed: October, 2014
Percentage of Energy Covered by Solar:  30%
Yearly Savings: $20,000
Impact: The company runs its operations “lights out,” meaning when the employees leave for the day, the computer-controlled machines keep working leading to significant energy costs. The company investigated solar a few years earlier, but knew it was relocating to a new facility and wanted to follow through with another solar system.

 

North Atlantic Co. 

Size: 1551 kW
Location: Somerset, MA
Date Installed: May, 2016
Percentage of Energy Covered by Solar:  90%
Impact: North Atlantic Corporation turned to Solect Energy to help them manage the installation of a solar array in conjunction with their planned expansion. Given the massive footprint of NAC’s building they had tremendous potential for a solar array, and their desire to also install on the roof of their new 45,000 sq. ft.  building increased that even further.

 

Hyde Tools

Size: 349 kW
Location: Southbridge, MA
Date Installed: May, 2015
Percentage of Energy Covered by Solar:  13%
Yearly Savings: $180,000
Impact: As an industrial manufacturer, Hyde Tools has a significant cost associated with their electricity needs. The company was looking for a way to improve their environmental footprint that also made good business sense. They turned to solar, using  tenK panels, maximizing the efficiency of the system.

 

Chemetal

Size: 201 kW
Location: Easthampton, MA
Date Installed: October, 2016
Percentage of Energy Covered by Solar: 33%
Yearly Savings: $25,000
Impact: Chemetal was upgrading their facility with an expansion that doubled the size of the building. Considering the costs of the expansion, and the looming rise in operation and maintenance costs they began looking for a way to mitigate the expenses. Pairing their new roof with solar was the perfect partnership.

 

Do you need to hire a Nobel Prize winner to understand your energy bill?

The Nobel prize for economics was awarded this week to Richard Thaler for his work on behavioral economics.  As you examine your most recent energy bill, you’re probably thinking you need to hire Thaler to figure it out for you. Indeed, there is a running joke in the energy industry that utilities make their bills as confusing as possible to prevent customers from taking action to lower them. The good news is that you don’t have to hire a Nobel prize winner to figure it out — we can help. As shown below, we have taken a typical commercial energy bill and explained the important sections so that you can better understand it.

In looking at your bill, one of the most critical areas where you should be paying attention are “Demand Charges” which can be up to 70% of your costs! Demand charges are calculated every month based on your highest energy usage for a single fifteen minute window. Your demand charges are important because they can dictate the rate you are paying.  If you have a “spiky” energy use profile the charges can be exorbitant.

If you think your demand charges are excessive,  and would like to lower them, we can help you with that too. You can send us a copy of your bill (link here) and we will do a quick analysis to determine if you should install an energy storage system to reduce your demand charges and lower those monthly bills.

So save your money, skip the Nobel Laureate Economists and let us do a free assessment to determine the best ways to lower your energy bills.

Solar and Schools: Beyond Energy

 

The calculus of solar has caught the attention of school administrators, facilities managers and school boards across New England. In this time of lean budgets, the benefit of lowering energy expenditures and redirecting those funds into more student-centric educational activities is too attractive to ignore.

Solar offers additional benefits as well:

Predictable energy costs allow schools to hedge their bets against rising utility rates, and improves the ability to accurately forecast and budget energy costs.

Environmental and health benefits from a clean energy source reduce greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions.

A highly relevant teaching tool for STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Math) Programs. Many schools integrate their solar system into their teaching curriculums. Some have kiosks that allow students to proactively monitor the solar array and make real world equivalency comparisons on energy saved.

Most schools operate as nonprofit entities and cannot directly take advantage of federal solar tax incentives. However, they can benefit from these policies through onsite power purchase agreements (PPA). PPAs are contracts where solar energy companies finance, build, own, and maintain a system on the customer’s site, selling the solar electricity generated back to the organization at a reduced, fixed rate for an extended period of time (typically 15 to 20 years). Under this model, the school incurs no (or very low) upfront costs and saves money through reduced energy costs. Massachusetts and Connecticut in particular have policies that favor the PPA model.

At Solect Energy we’ve seen the power of solar at work in both public and private K-12 schools and in higher institutes of learning. New facilities such as the recently built Somerset Berkley School incorporated solar into their design plans from the ground up. School ice rinks and sports facilities are often a driver. The high cost of cooling rinks and arenas have prompted schools to look for creative solutions. Finally, we are seeing that once schools experience the benefits of solar, they are eager to expand their solar commitment.

Insights from installations at public, private and higher education institutions:

Fitchburg Public Schools

Fitchburg Public Schools recently installed two rooftop solar systems totaling 603 kilowatts (kW) on its Reingold Elementary School and Memorial Middle School reducing their energy costs by more than $40,000 per year.  In addition, the school has taken full advantage of the many educational benefits of solar: hosting a regional Clean Energy Activity Day, featuring solar experts as speakers, and utilizing the monitoring dashboard as an authentic, integrated element of its STEM program.

 

 

The Pingree School

The Pingree School, a private secondary school in South Hamilton, a few years ago installed a 227 kW solar system on the roof of its ice rink. The rink’s high energy costs were nearly cost prohibitive during the hottest months of the year.  After the success of its rink installation, the school was keen to add solar to its new Field House. A 92 kW solar array was incorporated into the initial design of the building.  Now with both arrays Pingree covers nearly 50 percent of its energy costs, and saves approximately $20,000 a year.

 

Stonehill College – Committed to Solar Energy

In 2014 Stonehill College installed a solar farm generating approximately 3.24 million kilowatt hours (kWh), amounting to 20 percent of its annual electrical usage. The solar field is estimated to save the College $3.2 million over 15 years. In May 2017 Stonehill completed the installation of 2.8 MW solar canopy system over the vast majority of its parking area. With the new canopies, Stonehill now has 6 MW of solar installed on campus, increasing the total solar energy production to more than 40 percent of the campus’ annual electrical usage. The school has plans for the canopies to provide the added bonus of charging stations for electric vehicles in addition to offering snow and rain protection.

 

Harvard Business School, Harvard Law School

Harvard Business School has analyzed the benefits of solar and deemed it a sound investment. Solect has completed 7 installations on buildings across the HBS campus.  The combined systems amount to over 500 kW,  producing enough energy to charge 3,900,000 student laptops a year.

The math and benefits of solar add up to a compelling equation. With significant cost savings, student enrichment potential, and an overall positive environmental impact, schools should be highly motivated to investigate solar as a viable energy resource.

 

From SRECs to SMART — Massachusetts is Overhauling its Solar Incentive Program

However, there is still time to qualify for SRECS

 

For the last seven years, Massachusetts has run an extremely successful incentive program to promote the adoption of clean solar energy across the state based on solar renewable energy credits (SRECs). According to the MA Department of Energy Resources (DOER) the amount of installed solar capacity grew from below 20MW before 2010 to more than 1,699 MW in 2017 across 71,953 projects. The SREC program has been so successful that Massachusetts, a small state in the Northeast not known for its sunshine, is now known as one of the premiere states for solar development.

However,  in 2018 Massachusetts will be retiring the SREC-II program and implementing the Solar Mass Renewable Target program (SMART). This new incentive program will be a feed-in tariff (FIT)  and is scheduled to go into effect on April 1, 2018. Systems built before that date will qualify for the current SREC-II program, but they need to be mechanically complete (they do not need to be connected to the grid) by March 31st. There are advantages to the new SMART program, but there will be a reduction in the amount of the overall incentive offered compared to the current SREC-II program.

 

 

 

To meet the March 31st deadline, you would have to sign-up with an installer by early November 2017, or sooner depending on system size and complexity. If you are have been thinking about solar, now is the time to act to take advantage of the SREC incentive. Essentially, you have a 30-60 day window to sign a contract and get a project started to meet the deadline.

Interested in learning more about how you can get started on a project? Give us a call, and we’ll run a site assessment and handle the entire solar process from start to finish.

 

 

For more details about the SREC-II and SMART Programs, please visit the links below:

https://solect.com/doer-releases-next-generation-solar-incentive-program-proposal/

http://www.mass.gov/eea/energy-utilities-clean-tech/renewable-energy/rps-aps/development-of-the-next-solar-incentive.html