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Sensational Solar Homes: Solar Homes Roundup in Washington, DC

The news around Washington D.C. has not been altogether bright. The Nationals didn’t make the playoffs this year. The federal government is closed. The museums are closed. Imposing concrete barriers block you from parking in any lots managed by the National Park Service. A woman suffering from postpartum depression leads the police on a chase from the White House to the Capitol Building, where she is killed in her car. Despite all of the bad news and gridlock elsewhere in the city, the solar home tour celebrated its 23rd year in the metropolitan Washington DC area this past weekend. And if you missed it, you missed one of the bright spots in Washington, D.C. Homeowners with solar panels and solar water heating systems graciously opened their homes to visitors just to show off their solar prowess. Some of the homeowners even fed us (and our kids, thank you very much!). Human psychology plays a role in the financing of these systems. When there were more incentives, there was more of a frenzy to buy solar panels. Now that many of the incentives are no longer around, the frenzy has quieted down, but the cost of the solar systems without the incentives is now much less than it was before because of the falling cost of the modules. As one homeowner told us, he originally bought his panels ten years ago at $7.00/watt. Now a better module can cost around a dollar a watt. But what is missing is that hook that you better get on the bandwagon today. There is one major incentive that will almost certainly disappear, and that is the federal income tax credit, which ends in 2016, but you still should have time to put in your solar water heater or solar energy system before the credit expires. With the craziness in Washington, D.C., you probably should think about getting your system up and running before the solar tour next year.

Are Solar Shingles a Breakthrough Technology or Just a Passing Fad?

The solar industry is booming throughout the U.S., but still solar has yet to achieve wide acceptance that would make it more than an asterisk in the nation’s energy portfolio. Achieving even 1% of the nation’s energy is still an elusive goal. The largest part of the market is on commercial buildings. You are more likely to find solar panelson the roof of a Costco’s than on your neighbor’s home. There have been lots of challenges, but the two that loom more than the others are financing and aesthetics. That is what is now intriguing about Dow Chemical’s gambit on solar shingles. Dow Solar Dow Solar, a business unit of The Dow Chemical Company, has been quietly rolling out the solar shingles throughout the United Staes, and they have recently become available in SolarTown’s neighborhood, Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. The shingles do double duty; they are both roofing material to provide a weather tight roof for shelter and they are a source of your family’s electricity needs. But you can’t beat the aesthetics and that is where the rubber meets the road. If Dow can overcome the objections of builders then they may have created a new industry for meeting the needs of homeowners’ electricity needs. The big black boxes may be a quaint reminder of the early days of this fledging industry like the brick cell phones that weighed in at almost two pounds.






Tesla Rocks!

I used to tell my kids that if they ever strike it rich, they can buy me a Lamborghini and I would die a happy man—all that has changed with the Tesla. They were offering test drives a few months ago for electric cars. I stood patiently in the line for the Volt with a number of other folks, and then a Tesla made its appearance. The line for the Volt dissipated instantaneously. I hovered over the Tesla, as other onlookers purred their approval. I once dreamed that I could drive my electric car up to my own solar carport, but electric car charging stations are popping up close to my home. Most Tesla owners charge their cars at home with or without a solar carport.
So if you see my kids, please let them know that if they ever felt like giving me a present, forget the Lamborghini, I want a Tesla.






Price of Solar Panels Still Dropping but Solar Still Needs Storage

If someone would have told me a few years ago that the price for solar panels would drop to 36 cents by 2017, I might have had some question about the mental health of the one making the assertion. But now, look at what Green Tech Media is reporting. The price per watt of solar PV will keep falling. All of this is well and good for the emerging solar industry, but there is a hitch: the sun doesn’t shine at night. price The price per watt to produce solar panels will fall to 36 cents by the end of 2017. With this cost reduction comes a price – disappearing subsidies for solar PV. The subsidies, which cost billions in taxpayer dollars, are believed to be less and less necessary as the price of solar energy reaches grid parity. Solar PV systems require panels, yes, but also a considerable number of other parts. Inverters, wiring, solar batteries for off grid or backup systems, and a good deal of cash for professional installation account for a large percentage of the startup cost that is so daunting to prospective investors, residential and utility alike. The most prohibitive drawback that has solar producing just .195% of the nation’s energy is easy to overlook, but oh so obvious once considered: when the sun goes down over the horizon, the panels are not producing energy.In order to make solar a real answer to our energy needs, it needs to be able to produce energy around the clock, and specifically when it’s needed during peak hours. Price per watt can drop all it wants for panels. To stay competitive, solar energy will need help, and subsidies won’t be coming back to the rescue. The answer is in energy storage.






Now the World Agrees with Us: There is a Difference between Solar Panels

If you have seen one solar module, have you seen them all? Many in the solar industry have long argued that solar panels are a commodity, interchangeable at the whim of the developer. We have strongly disagreed, but we conceded that the market has not agreed with us. All you need to do is ask the many companies who fill the halls of bankruptcy courts around the country and abroad about the market forces that drove them out of business. This argument has been settled—until Tom Woody authored a New York Times article that solar panel quality is a growing concern within the solar industry. Maybe the world is beginning to agree with us, but in any event, you should become an educated consumer as you look at which panels to put on your roof for the next 25 years.






SolarTown Receives Second Award of GSA Contract

SolarTown is increasingly tapped to support our governmental agencies, both at the federal and local level. We welcome the opportunity to respond to the needs of government agencies, educational institutions and others as they become increasingly interested in solar energy. Government customers are increasingly looking to SolarTown for their solar energy product needs. SolarTown received its first contract from the General Services Administration (GSA) over a year ago. We are now getting more calls and look forward to serving the government. We are very pleased to report that last month, SolarTown received its second GSA contract, a Federal Supply Contract for building supplies. This new contract will allow us to offer even a larger breadth of solar energy products to the government.






Solar Industry Survivors Talk About Going Global at GW Solar Institute

SolarTown attended the GW Solar Institute’s Fifth Annual Symposium. The theme of the symposium was “Going Global,” although the panel that we attended was more of a celebration of solar’s arrival on the world stage. Since the discussion had the feel of preaching to the choir, one solar advocate in the audience suggested that the Institute should have invited a few more skeptics to generate more lively discussion. Representatives of three powerhouses in the solar industry participated in the panel discussion. They represented the survivors in an industry that has seen considerable consolidation—meaning that a lot of companies have lost their shirts betting on solar. Some have sold their solar divisions, others have filed for bankruptcy. Survivors in the industry shakeout see opportunity. The panelists did not see the recent upheaval in the solar industry as anything “unnatural.” The industry is still at its infancy, and the recent industry shakeout is part of a natural business cycle. Solar still comprises less than 1% of the energy production in the U.S., despite huge growth in the industry. The opportunity lies ahead for those companies that survive.






Solar 2013 Lights Up Baltimore

Solar 2013, Baltimore. Today is the last day of the 42d annual ASES National Solar Conference. The conference may not have drawn the large crowds as in previous years—the field for solar and renewable conferences is getting crowded—but those who attended were treated to a heavy dose of solar policy, feed-in tariffs and installation guidance. One common theme at the conference was to learn from the experience of Germany, which has made tremendous strides that Germany to make solar and renewable a significant part of the energy output. This has also brought the cost down and between 2006-2012, the installed cost of solar systems in Germany has declined by a whopping 66%. Germany’s goal is to generate 30% of its energy from renewable energy by 2030, and it is well on its way to meet that goal.






Spring Forward with Solar Lights and Fountains

It is that time of year again, but you would not know it from the weather outside in Washington, D.C. It has been cold and breezy, yet the sun is shining and if you have your solar panels out, you have been producing lots of solar energy. We have just updated our site with a new selection of new home solar panels, so if you are in the market, or just want to compare various options, then please let us know. If you don’t have the big bucks to shell out for a home solar panel system, then you may want to think about other solar offerings. As soon as the sun comes out, people start thinking solar powered lights and solar fountains. Every year, the solar light options get increasingly better, more efficient, brighter and more attractive. The SolarTown learning section provides an overview of solar powered lights, what applications they can be used for, a brief description of the lights, and how long they will work when operating at a full charge. Probably the most popular lights are solar path lights, but solar lamp posts are also quite popular.






Drive Right Up…To Your Solar Carport

First they were in outer space, then they invaded our homes and businesses, and even our backyards. Now solar panels are getting into our most sacred possessions, right next to our automobiles. Solar panel roofs are providing shade for cars through the U.S. and at the same time these panels are producing a lot of electricity. Solar panels are particularly well-suited for certain applications, and solar carports should be right on top of the list. We could be talking about the Mars Rover, where the next Shell gas station is no closer than 30 million miles away. But here we are talking about solar carports, which are relatively new areas of huge potential for the solar industry.






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