Tag Archives: home energy management system

SBS Intalls Solar for Ravalli Co Habitat for Humanity

According to the Bitterroot Star, last week the the fifth home by Ravalli County Habitat for Humanity was completed and keys handed over to the owners. The new home is on Cherry Street in Hamilton and now belongs to Travis Sanderson and his family.

Much of the materials for the home were donating, including a Solar PV system – made possible through the work of Sustainable Building Systems (SBS) and Northwestern Energy’s Solar PV grant.  This system will reduce the family’s prior heating bill of $350/month in winter to around $80/month.

Read the entire coverage from the Bitterroot Star here.

The Northwestern Energy Solar PV Grant

As a company with a NABCEP Certified Solar Installer, we are one a few companies in the state that qualifies for special $6,000 grants from Northwestern Energy for Solar PV installs. We’ve been granted access to 11 such grants and have already allocated a few of them.  Our goal it to have them all in install mode by Halloween.  If you have been considering Solar PV, this sort of assistance really starts to make it affordable, especially coupled with State and Federal Tax Credits.

Consider that the average US home uses 9000 kWh (kilowatt hours) of power per year.  This is roughly 26.5 kWh per day. For example’s sake, we’ll say 25 kWh, which would be easy to obtain with minor energy retrofits).  If you figure that we have, on a annual average in Western Montana, 5-hours of sun per day to make energy from, that would mean we’d need to produce 5 kW of energy from that system, per hour, to get to 25 kWh.
5 kW x 5 h = 25 kWh

Now consider that the average panel produces 185 W.  This would mean the 5.5 panels would be needed to produce 1 kW.
185 W x 5.5 panels = 1000 W
1000 W = 1 kW = 5.5 panels

So, to get to the 5 kW system we’re looking for, the average system would require 27 panels.
5.5 panels = 1 kW
27 panels = 5 kW

Now, most folks are not interested in offsetting 100% of their energy quite yet.  Here in Missoula we have annual net metering.  This means that you are assessed a bill each month depending on how much energy your system will put back in the grid (i.e. in January that might only be 10% and in July it could be 120%).  At the end of the year your total usage and production are assessed.  If you produced a deficit of energy, you will already have paid that amount through your monthly billing.  If you produced a surplus, well, you’re neighbor thanks you for putting clean, solar energy back into the grid.  But, at this point, Northwestern Energy doesn’t pay you back.  That’s not to say they won’t someday, with energy rates increasing at 4.4% on average.   However, since they currently do not pay you for your surplus, we usually design and install systems that cover 90% or less of your annual energy needs.

So, back to the example above.  Take the 5 kW system.  Let’s say we only want to go with 75% coverage.  We’re now at 3.75 kW (or 3750 watt system).  At an average rate of $5-$8, per watt, installed, we’ll use $6 in this example.
3750 W x $6/W = $22,500

Now, apply the $6000 Northwestern Energy Solar PV Grant, 30% Federal Tax credit, and $500 per MT tax payer credit (so, $1000 for most households):

$22,500 (gross)
– $6,000 (NW Energy)
– $4,950 (30% Federal Tax Credit)
– $1,000 ($500/person MT Tax Credit)
_____________
=$10,550 (net)

This is, of course, just an example.  But is a good indicator of what’s out there today.  If you don’t have tax liability this year, the tax credits can be carried forward for up to 5 years.  There are also other incentives and tax deductions out there, as well as some forms of revolving loan financing that can be applied to either the net or gross amount.

New SBS Solar PV Customer Profile

Customer Name, location, system size:
Keegan Eisenstadt, Rattlesnake Valley, Missoula, Montana, 3450 watt solar PV system

What turned you on to Solar?

My father was a solar energy engineer in the 70s-80s in New Mexico.  They have had water heating panels on their house since then.  Additionally, my own work at ClearSky Climate Solutions is related to changing the course of climate change – which is predominantly driven by human demands for energy.  The clear need for more distributed generation of power from renewable sources is the most important element to reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases, and leaving a more stable world to my children.  Solar is a great way for me to practice what I preach, and also get a great price on power for my house!

What brought you to SBS?

SBS is an innovative, Missoula company that is looking at a holistic approach to analyzing and reducing energy use (and greenhouse gas emissions) of planned and existing structures.  My company works to mitigate carbon footprints with its clients, and a linkage to SBS was a natural for us.  Once I started learning more about what SBS does, I realized that I needed them to install a system on my home.  The solar system install team at SBS proved to be smart, capable and thorough.  I also think they are genuinely as excited about my system as I am!!!  I know they log into my system’s internet monitoring pages to see how it is performing, not daily as I do (which is great fun!), but at least weekly.

Racking system in, panel get ready!

What were your goals for this system?

My goals for the system were threefold: 1) make my house a laboratory for how to mitigate climate change with distributed generation of renewable power (which is something I have thought about, talked about, and worked towards for years), 2) give me a better-than-market price on electricity – which it will certainly do, and 3) provide an educational/outreach opportunity for my community to see just how easy it is to make your own power!

The financial incentives available right now for installing domestic alternative energy systems are good: 30% federal tax credit, $500/tax payer state tax credit, NorthWestern Energy grants, and low interest loans available.  My system will be financially paid off in 10 years, using a 4% fixed loan from federal stimulus money.  The system payback, from the energy created will be between 8-12 years, depending upon how fast prices for energy rise, and the panels on my system have a 25 year warranty.  So, my house will make roughly 1/3 of it’s power for free from about year 10 until 25.  That’s a good power bill!

Josh setting the first panel. Check out the nice lines on those racks and micro-inverters.

What do you like best about your system?

Actually, I’m surprised by this answer.  I had no idea how much more aware of energy use in my house I would become.  I now see/feel the house using energy….literally with the real-time monitoring tools that are part of the installation.  I turn on the stove, microwave, the stereo and I can see the kilowatts used jump.  It is amazing……I know that the mot

or in my refrigerator uses about 95 kW, that a big light fixture in the living room is 225 kW, that the microwave and clothes dryer are huge energy HOGS.  Frankly, I wasn’t really aware of those things before.  I never really internalized the energy demand of things in my house that way.  Even being interested in these things, I hadn’t internalized them in a tangible way.  It is such a surprise, and I am really enjoying it.  I’m sure in time, I will be happier with the cost savings….but right now, I am learning a lot and feeling great about it!

We just finished installing a 3450 watt solar PV system in the Rattlesnake where we employed 16 Enphase micro inverters. Micro inverters offer several advantages over more conventional string inverters.

Micro-inverters, monitoring and mountains...

Each solar module power production is optimized individually so little module mismatching occurs.  As well, if one module is shaded from a nearby tree, this one module will have reduced output, not the entire series string of modules as with the larger string inverters.  This advantage alone makes a huge difference but the pluses don’t end here.

The Enphase engineers designed one of the coolest monitoring programs found in the PV world.  Each individual module reports its power output over the existing AC output wiring to your in home computer or with internet service, this data is directed to the company’s website where current and cumulative data is displayed and stored.

A good graphic says a thousand words so if you are interested check out this link to the Enphase monitoring examples.

For more information on Solar or to talk with Dan:

Dan Brandborg
NABCEP certified Solar installer dbrandbog@sbslink.com

Embodied Energy Tidbit

This is a great, and short, video from TED U, the interactive learning component of The Energy Detective (TED) device.

Here Catherine Mohr shares some quick and valuable information on evaluating simple life choices as they relate to energy and water consumption… paper towels v sponge v washcloth all the way to building a new home.

Zandy’s New Bio…

SBS is proud to announce (okay, we’re bragging a bit, but you’ll understand why)… that our very own Zandy Sievers  was appointed to the City of Missoula’s Greenhouse Gas and Energy Conservation Team!  He says, “Hopefully my say will have an effect on local energy reduction measures!”

As if that weren’t enough, Zandy is also on a 7-person verifier panel shaping the functionality of the green scoring tool for  NAHB Research Center’s National Green Building Standard.  The City of Missoula is about to incentivize  the NGBS for local green builders.  How yet, the panel is not sure.

Here is Zandy’s new bio:

Alexander (Zandy) Sievers, SBS Project Technician, began working in the building industry as a handyman, doing everything from plumbing and electrical work to carpentry, while finishing his B.A. degree in Psychology at the University of Montana.  After working in the human service field and a couple years in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Zandy made his way back into the building industry working as a carpenter and was hired by Eclipse Engineering, Inc. in 2006 as a Structural Draftsman.

In 2008 he convinced Eclipse to support his interest in Green Building and become a NAHB Green Home Verifier for the company.  After completing his Energy Star Verifier and Home Energy Rater training, his interests in ecology and building science led him to Sustainable Building Systems.   Since working for SBS he has been noted by the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) as one of the top 15 most active verifiers in the country and has assisted the NAHB research center in developing the scoring tool for the ANSI approved ICC 700-2008 National Green Building Standard.   In May of 2010 he was appointed to the Missoula City Greenhouse Gas & Energy Conservation Team, helping lead the City in conservation measures.

Currently Zandy is studying to be a consultant for the most stringent energy standard in the world, Passive House.  Literally meaning “home that conditions itself” homes certified to the Passive House Institute standard use a tenth of the energy of conventional code built homes.

Zandy and His wife Prairie are bringing sustainability to their neighborhood by starting a small scale CSA garden on their lot in city limits.  They also have chickens, a German Sheppard, a barn yard cat, and a stellar son, Bannin.  Zandy has always had a love for the outdoors and when there is no snow to ski you’ll probably find him Mountain biking or juggling at the farmers market.

We are proud of our staff and their accomplishments.  It’s not just enough for us to talk about green energy around here, we strive to live it and do it, as well.

NICE WORK, ZANDY, YOU MAKE SBS PROUD!

for more information on SBS, Energy Consulting or to talk with Zandy:

Alexander (Zandy) Sievers
RESNET Home Energy Rater, NorthWest Energy Star Homes Verifier, NAHB Green Building Verifier
T/(406)531-3143
zsievers@sbslink.com

Micro Inverters, Monitoring and Mountains, oh my!

We just finished installing a 3450 watt solar PV system in the Rattlesnake where we employed 16 Enphase micro inverters. Micro inverters offer several advantages over more conventional string inverters.

Racking system in, Panel get ready!

Each solar module power production is optimized individually so little module mismatching occurs.  As well, if one module is shaded from a nearby tree, this one module will have reduced output, not the entire series string of modules as with the larger string inverters.  This advantage alone makes a huge difference but the pluses don’t end here.

Josh setting the first panel. Check out the lines on those racks and micro-inverters.

The Enphase engineers designed one of the coolest monitoring programs found in the PV world.  Each individual module reports its power output over the existing AC output wiring to your in home computer or with internet service, this data is directed to the company’s website where current and cumulative data is displayed and stored.

A good graphic says a thousand words so if you are interested check out this link to the Enphase monitoring examples.  http://enlighten.enphaseenergy.com/public/systems/BxqT67#.

Micro Inverters, Monitoring and Mountains.

PS – don’t those snowy spring peaks just look great in the distance?  It sure is nice to be working Solar in Montana.

Dan Brandborg
SBS Solar guru
dbrandbog@sbslink.com

News from our Intern

Hi, I’m Larry and I have been serving my internship with SBS as I work toward my AAS in Energy Technology this semester (Spring 2010).

The work here has been interesting since the company is in the process of defining its market niche.  They already have some pretty hot irons in the fire and so I was tasked with finding a viable, affordable “Home Energy Management System” to be incorporated into the stable of energy efficiency measures that SBS can tender as recommendations to clients.

The research has lead me into some interesting areas that include the use of programmable thermostats, home and small business automation, the differences between use of Radio Frequency (RF), Infrared (IR) and hard wired control technologies.  Additional work here has also involved home energy audits to assist in finding where energy is being used and where it is potentially being wasted.  Let me tell you that the people here at SBS are top notch professionals that sincerely have the interest of not just the client but also the interests of the planet at heart.  The professionals here recognize that the kilowatt save or conserved today will stave off the need to construct additional power plants for the near future.  That saves us all money, now and later our children and grandchildren will appreciate the fact that we have taken a leading position in preserving the earth for them.

The folks here at SBS have shown me that the use of both stand alone Photo Voltaic (PV) systems and the increasingly popular grid-tied PV systems can have a great impact on how to best use the suns energy sources.  The energy production is free once the system is installed and commissioned.  These folks are also heads up with the latest incentives available to the consumer.  The incentives come from the federal government, state government, and utility providers; they take the form of rebates, subsidized low interest loans and direct subsidies.  These incentives go beyond making energy systems affordable-the professional installation stops just short of being making them a piece of art.  The offset in a homeowner’s energy bill every month will wind up leaving money in their pockets for decades to come.  There is something pleasing about watching a meter run backwards!

Insulation here in the State of Montana is a necessity to keep the bite of winter outside where it belongs and during the summer to allow us to rest easy in the comfort of our climate controlled environments.  It still amazes me that more people don’t make the small investment of providing adequate insulation for their homes!  We could concentrate on talking about R-values, yet the bottom line is that we are more comfortable in a snug home and insulation coupled with draft reduction takes us to that level of comfort.

Windows and doors typically can be replaced with the ensuing comfort of living in a draft free, energy efficient home.  The costs, when off-set by the incentives and subsidies are frequently recaptured with the energy savings alone within just a few years.  In essence the homeowner may not see the savings when first repaying the borrowed monies but the financial reward comes soon when the costs of energy go up but the usage cost has gone down because of the gained efficiency.

I’ll be finished here in mid-May and am spending the last couple weeks understanding how much our state legislatures actually know about all this sort of work and what SBS can do to be a positive part of the evolution to a more sustainable and energy efficient world.

Larry “the Intern” Keogh