2017 Solar Scholarship Winner: Martin Francis (University of Michigan)

Solar Action Alliance is a group of environmentalists who want to spread the word about the most clean, reliable, and abundant source of renewable energy: the sun.

The Business of Solar by Martin Francis (University of Michigan)

As a student in the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, I am taught that making a positive impact on the world is the most important thing I can do with my career and with my life. While this is a broad goal, to me it means placing the welfare of our earth as a higher priority than the welfare of our economy. However, these goals do not have to be in opposition with each other. Fortunately, I have found that protecting our environment stimulates economic growth. It excites me that the widespread implementation of solar energy would have an overall positive impact on our economy.

Several projects come to mind when I consider how renewable energy (especially solar) can sustain financial success. For example, Tesla’s Solar Roof is a clear example of how a solar-generated energy source can be an attractive product to the average consumer. The sleek design of the shingles, along with their incredible durability, make this product an obvious choice for savvy contractors and home owners. Another product I think of is the SOL solar-powered laptop. This is the world’s first laptop that runs entirely by the power of the sun. In the U.S.A., we often take for granted the fact that our energy infrastructure is so reliable. However, for places around the globe where energy is not always readily available, SOL is a perfect option for computer users.

As products like these continue to develop, there is a clear hope for having both environmental and economic success. Solar energy is the best renewable resource because of its potential to produce large amounts of power while still being accessible to the masses. An article by EnergySage.com states that “If the average household consumes 11,000 kWh per year and we assume 250 watt solar panels, we can use the high and low panel production ratios to calculate an average. Thus, the typical homeowner will need 28 – 34 solar panels to cover 100% of energy usage.” This means that solar is a viable option to those who are considering converting their power grid to solar energy. Not only can solar save you money in the long run, but it is also clearly better for the environment. Historically, the average price of coal has been around $0.06 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). While steam can be as low as $0.05 cents/kWh, and small scale natural gas can be as inexpensive as $0.03 cents/kWh, it is no comparison when looking at the cost of solar energy. Recently, solar technology has become increasingly price competitive when compared to fossil fuels at prices as low as $0.029 cents per kWh!

I have always valued the importance of the environment as well as economic sustainability when considering implementation of new technology. Solar technology not only protects the environment by reducing the amount of pollutants we dump into our ecosystem, but it also is a wonderful alternative to fossil fuel energy production when comparing the cost of both technologies. With solar technology gaining momentum as a player in the worlds energy production, it is clear to see the exciting change that many individuals are taking by converting to solar energy production.

 

Click here to apply for next year’s scholarship contest!

 

Solar Paint – The Future of Solar?

solar paintInstalling solar panels is an expensive, laborious process, a fact that keeps many homeowners from making the switch. But what if, in the future, there was a cheaper, less complicated method of generating solar energy? What if that solar energy source came in the form of paint? Well, that future is actually not as far off as you might think.

 

What is Solar Paint?

Solar paint, also known as photovoltaic paint, is exactly what it sounds like! It’s a paint that you can apply to any surface that will capture energy from the sun and transform it into electricity. The paint would essentially be your average paint, but with billions of pieces of light sensitive material suspended in it, material that would transform the typical paint into superpowered energy-capturing paint.

The cool thing about solar paint, as far as residential homeowners are concerned, is that installation is much easier and cheaper. Do you know how to paint? If so, you can do the bulk of the installation yourself! An electrician will obviously be needed to pull everything together, but you won’t be needing a full installation team working all day on your roof like you currently do with traditional solar panels.

 

What is the Current State of Solar Paint?

Right now, solar paint is a little bit more than a concept and a little bit less than a consumer-level product. Many universities and some research groups have created their own iterations of solar paint, and some of them have had some serious success! We’ll cover those successes in the “Types of Photovoltaic Paint” section below.

The main issue with solar paint is that it’s not quite efficient enough to be commercially viable. Solar paint ranges anywhere from 3-8% Efficiency is essentially the percentage of the power of the sun’s rays that the technology can capture. If a particular type of solar paint has a 5% efficiency, that means it’s capturing only 5% of the total available sun energy. For comparison sake, traditional silicon solar panels operate at around 18% efficiency. Most experts agree that a solar technology has to surpass 10% efficiency to be viable.

Solar paint is certainly less expensive than solar panels, in terms of both production and installation, but the low efficiency means that it’s not quite ready to be taken to market. However, we still think it’s quite amazing that the technology exists at all. The widespread usage of solar paint is not as far off as it may seem!

 

Types of Photovoltaic Paint

The most common type of photovoltaic paint is a paint utilizing colloidal quantum dots. These are semiconductor crystals that are already used in solar panels as well as LEDs and computers. The University of Toronto created an iteration of solar paint wherein they sprayed these dots atom by atom onto a backing. This backing could then be rolled up, sent to the place where it’s to be installed, and then applied like a wallpaper. It’s not quite the image that you think of when you hear “solar paint”, I know that I personally think of a Behr paint bucket filled with futuristic glow-in-the-dark goo paint, but the application is the same – it can cover a surface and provide solar energy. The only issue with the dots technology is that the efficiency is still sitting around 8% and therefore not yet commercially viable.

At the University of Buffalo, they have utilized an organic photovoltaic material that, like the dots, can also be placed in a paint and applied. However, the efficiency is still lower than needed to make it a realistic option for homeowners.

In 2015, a startup called SolarLayer attempted to fundraise for their brand of solar paint on IndieGoGo. They didn’t go into what their solar paint was actually made of. Perhaps this is why they only raised $400 of the initial $100,000 goal!

 

Wrapping Up

In the end, solar paint is still a technology in its infancy. But we have to remember that not too long ago, solar panels were at the same stage. The solar industry is a progressive industry that is always looking to improve its technology, and if I were a betting man I would say that solar paint has a good chance to become a legitimate option in the solar space before long.

 

 

Tesla Solar Roof vs Traditional Solar Panels

Tesla’s merger with SolarCity has sent shockwaves through the solar energy world. The latest development from the new company is a Tesla “Solar Roof”. This is essentially an entire roof replacement that consists of both solar and non-solar glass tiles. The overall effect is what Tesla is calling an “invisible roof”.

There is no arguing that the look of this new product is stunning – it has a sleek, futuristic look that represents the  “what could be” for the future of both roofing and residential solar. Just look at this demo house:

 

tesla solar roof example

It’s certainly a cleaner look than a solar panel array on the roof of your home (though at this point in time, solar panels on your roof are trendier than not having them).

The blend of a solar roof that looks great and can generate massive amounts of energy for your home is an attractive prospect for any homeowner, but the main question is: does this make sense for your home compared to a traditional solar panel installation?

 

Price Comparison of Tesla Solar Roof vs Solar Panels

To begin our investigation into how a Tesla solar roof compares to typical solar panels, we’re going to break down the cost of installation and the solar production created by the roof. For our example, we are going to use a 3,000 square foot home in California (Energy Sage did a similar comparison).

If you go with the solar roof option, it’s going to set you back $50,900. If this seems high, that’s because it IS high! The Tesla Solar Roof is essentially both a new roof AND a solar system array, and the price reflects that.

The cost of a traditional solar system for the same home would be approximately $26,000 (before federal tax rebate is applied).

Just going off of the base price, the solar roof for this 3,000 square foot home is essentially $25,000 more than a full solar panel system on the same home!

 

Energy Output Comparison

Okay, so the solar roof is double the price of the solar panels, it must generate a lot more power then right? Actually, not really.

For our example home, the solar roof would actually generate only about 70% of the energy that the solar panels could.

The $26000 solar panel system would be a 8.5 kW system, while the $50,900 solar roof would only be a 6.25 kW system.

This is largely because the roof, while it covers more area, is less efficient and has a mix of both solar and non-solar tiles.

 

Overall Comparison

When it comes down to it, the Tesla solar roof is mainly a luxury option at this point. It costs much more and produces much less than installing a standard solar panel array on your home.

However, below we have detailed some situations in which installing the solar roof could make sense for you.

You Should Install a Tesla Solar Roof If:

  • Money isn’t an object. Just like Tesla’s cars, if you have the money and are gung-ho about renewable energy, the Tesla solar roof just makes sense.
  • You need a new roof anyway. If you already need a new roof, than the Tesla solar roof can seem much more reasonable. If you were to go ahead and get a new roof installed along with a new solar panel array, than your cost would approach the cost of a new solar roof. It likely wouldn’t be as much, but the difference in cost could actually make it a feasible option for you.

 

Benefits of a Solar Roof

  • They are supposed to last a lifetime. Tesla claims that their solar roofs are built to last for life. Considering the expense and headache that goes into roofs, this is a very attractive prospect for homeowners. Tesla offers a lifetime guarantee, so essentially you’d never have to worry about replacing or repairing your roof again!
  • It looks great. While we have to remain open-minded about the aesthetic look of a typical solar array on residential homes, there is no doubt that the Tesla roof just looks better. It’s a clean, conspicuous look that any homeowner can appreciate.
  • It comes with a Tesla Powerwall. The Tesla Powerwall is one of the best products available when it comes to maximizing your solar energy. It stores energy during sunlight hours and makes that energy available during the night. Energy storage is one of the bottlenecks of solar, and the Powerwall is the latest in attempts to combat that. Additionally, it can power your home in case of a power outage!

 

Final Thoughts

The Tesla Solar Roof is a fantastic innovation, much like their electric cars. Does it make sense for many homeowners? No, not really. But it’s definitely something that we can see being installed on all new homes in the future. It’s definitely a step in the right direction for the aesthetics of solar. Right now, it’s a bit expensive to make a lot of sense. But there is no doubt that they will continue to make it a more efficient and less expensive technology. Man, the solar space is so exciting!

 

 

How Will President Donald Trump Affect The Adoption of Solar Renewable Energy?

A January report from Nasa confirmed what many of us have been fearing throughout last year, 2016 was officially the warmest year ever since modern record-keeping began in 1880. Ironically, this report was published on January 18, no more than two days prior to Donald Trump’s inauguration as president of United States.

Now you may be wondering what President Trump’s inauguration has to do with the global warming. You are not to blame, hearing the president’s view on global warming surprised even the most skeptical of us.

Developing alternative forms of energy was “a big mistake” President Trump said in his Crippled America book, “To begin with, the whole push for renewable energy is being driven by the wrong motivation, the mistaken belief that global climate change is being caused by carbon emissions. If you don’t buy that — and I don’t — then what we have is really just an expensive way of making the tree-huggers feel good about themselves,” he concluded.

What’s more, President Trump promised to return many of the coal miners’ jobs. “Get ready,” he told the coal miners as part of his election campaign, “you’re going to work your asses off!” Confirming his intention to cut back on solar renewable energy and shifting focus back to coal production.

So, what is going to happen to the solar energy industry, considering the fact that the president of the leading nation in solar energy does not believe in it?

Here are some of the anticipated outcomes:

  • Research funding for wind and solar power will be cut, and money be redirected towards coal and fossil fuels.
  • Environmental regulations, including President Obama’s modifications that emphasized the importance of renewable energy, will be changed to decrease investment in this industry.
  • Tax incentives for developing renewable energy will be discontinued, hurting an industry that

But, there’s light at the end of the tunnel for an industry that employs over 200,000 people and, according to the American Wind Energy Association, brings $245 million a year to rural property owners that lease land for renewable energy purposes, largely helping especially the impoverished rural areas of the nation.

Renewable energy consumption has been expected to even surpass coal consumption by 2040, according to Environmental Impact Assessment (see figure below), and that positive momentum is not about to change anytime soon.

 

To begin with, 29 states have already established renewable energy standards, with most citing between 15-35% as the target level of renewable energy they will be consuming within the next 10-20 years. Federal laws discontinuing incentives and funding can have no effect in state decisions, who seem boldly decided to keep investing in renewable energy. Certain states even confirmed their intention to increase investment in renewable energy if the White House decides the opposite.

Meanwhile, large corporations will leverage their buying power whilst smaller companies join in the increasingly sustainable industry as well.

What matters most though, is the will of the population. The general customer demand is increasingly requiring clean, affordable renewable energy, which should serve as an underlying driver for increasing investment and effort in the solar energy. Add the fact that the number of jobs generated by solar companies is fast making it one of the leading industries in the nation, and even President Trump will be convinced.

To top it off, many of the Republicans are confirmed supporters of renewable energy already, with Trump’s choice for Energy Secretary, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, championing determined deployment of solar during his governing tenure in Texas.

Ultimately, President Trump’s policy changes might put a small dent on the solar renewable energy’s growth, but is not expected to have a drastic effect on it. Especially considering that such measures would hurt the creation of jobs within US, and provide the opportunity for the likes of Russia and China, United States’ main rivals, to lead the development of such a crucial industry.

Links:

https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-noaa-data-show-2016-warmest-year-on-record-globally/

https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/energy-and-resources/articles/renewable-energy-outlook.html

 

5 Green Trends in Green Construction in 2016

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 12.11.57 PM

Consumer demand for green buildings continues to grow and an increasing number of construction firms offer a green way. According to the 2015 World Green Building Trends survey, which surveyed 1,026 construction industry firms in 69 countries, 51 percent of firms committed to sustainable design in more than 60 percent of their work. The reasons for growing consumer demand include:

● greater health and productivity
● energy savings
● water use reduction
● lower greenhouse gas emissions
● natural resource conservation.

As consumer demand for green buildings rises, the construction industry evolves new materials and new methods for better buildings. Five trends top the green construction list in 2016.

1. Cool Roofs & Green Roofs.
Cool roofs consist of reflective materials that deflect the sun’s heat from the surface. This saves between seven to 25 percent in cooling costs while also reducing interior temperature fluctuations. Cool roof materials include rubber polymers, foam, metal and tile. Green roofs feature partial or complete coverage in vegetation, as well as, layers of root barriers and irrigation systems. Use of green roofs doubles the roof’s lifespan, cools the home which reduces summer energy needs and diverts storm water. Used throughout a neighborhood, cool roofs collectively help reduce the urban heat island effect and decrease greenhouse gas emissions.

2. Zero-energy Buildings.
Zero-energy buildings rely on renewable energy, usually solar or wind power, and operate off grid. These energy saving buildings also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Although more expensive up-front, the long-term payoffs make it a wise investment for many businesses. Solar is currently the primary choice in renewables.

3. Water Reuse & Supply Technologies.
With a goal of net-zero water use, construction firms now offer water-conservation mechanisms such as rainwater harvesting systems and greywater recycling systems. Business construction projects may include on-site sewage treatment mechanisms. These options recycle water while reducing the water bill.

4. Storm water management.
Storm water management uses landscaping to mitigate erosion and flash floods caused by rain or snow. The landscaping method uses a combination of container plantings, ground strip plantings and green roofs to absorb and purify water. This also reduces the runoff into storm sewers.

5. Low-emittance windows and smart glass.
Low-emittance windows coated with metallic oxide keep a building cooler in summer and warmer in winter reducing heating and cooling costs. A developing trend, smart glass, or electrochromic glass, uses a small amount of electricity to control the amount of light it reflects. This tints the glass during the day, blocking heat, and returns it to transparent at night.

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 12.10.32 PMConsumers continue to push for greener buildings that provide more energy efficient homes and business buildings that benefit the occupants. Businesses are among those looking for greater real estate value and finding it in green buildings that lower operating costs. In 2005, green construction comprised two percent of nonresidential building starts. By 2012, green building starts made up 41 percent of the construction sector. Green construction continues to grow with consumer demand driving it.

Jessica Kane is a professional blogger who writes for Econoheat., the world’s #1 leading waste oil heater manufacturer.