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Tips on How to Talk to Your Solar Installer and Save Money in the Process


How To Negotiate With A Solar Installer

If you’re ready to spring into a solar panel system for your home, this is a great year to do so. The continued drop in solar systems prices paired with exciting technology developments have made 2017 a great year to go solar. Solar energy can help you reduce your utility bills, improve your property value, and of course help the environment!

When you begin shopping around for a solar system, you may wonder what goes into the hefty sticker price. The largest part of the expensive derives from the actual­­ equipment. This usually includes the panels themselves, the inverter, and the mounting system. Then you have to factor in the costs of labor, installation, and permitting. Plus, your installation cost can fluctuate depending on exactly where you’re going to be mounting the panels. A complex roof, for example, can be more difficult to install and require more man-hours. This type of specification is a perfect example of something to go over with solar installers when you start negotiating overall price. Want to save money on your solar panel system? Start by knowing how to negotiate with the solar installers you interview. Below is an overview of what you need to know to get started. In the case of buying a solar system, knowledge is definitely power!

Cost Per Installed Watt

Your ability to pull the trigger on a solar system is probably going to depend on whether it can fit within your budget. It’s crucial to be able to decipher pricing quotes from vendors and understand how that will or won’t fit within your requirements. First, the quotes you receive should clearly state the maximum generating capacity of the system in AC watts. If they provide a quote with DC watts, have them convert it to AC before you get started.

The size of a solar system is typically measured in kilowatts (kW). It will be helpful for you to know how much a system will cost you per watt (1 kW is 1,000 watts). To do so, take the quoted price that you get from a trusted installer and divide it by the expected output. This is your cost per installed watt. You can use this to compare to other installers and figure out who has the lowest cost per installed watt. Use this figure to compare systems, regardless of size. Just because one system is more expensive, that doesn’t necessarily mean that its value in terms of power output is greater. Configure your cost per watt and compare.

Break It Down

Ask for a breakdown of all that is included in your quote. Does the quote incorporate reductions granted by the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) incentive? The ITC affords a 30 percent rebate for eligible solar technologies including photovoltaic, solar water heating, and solar space heating/cooling. That’s right, this incentive reduces the total cost of your solar system by 30 percent! Plus, there may be additional state tax credits available to you depending on what state you live in.  You can do more research on which rebates are available in your state with the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency. Also, be sure to ask whether the quoted price includes sales tax, permitting, connecting to the grid and all hardware.

Credentials and Warranty

Take to your installer about their insurance coverage and available warranties. There are often different warranties. One issued from the parts manufacturer and a second from the installer, so be sure to ask about both. Make sure you’re getting the right warranty that suits your budget

Last but not least, don’t be afraid to ask for the installer’s credentials and certifications. Ask how many years of experience they have installing photovoltaic systems, and their experience in your area. Ask if there be a project manager responsible for keeping the project on time and within budget? Who will be your point-person. What’s your projected turnaround time for this project?

Compare at least three installers to get a good sense of who you’re working with and to make sure you’re getting the best deal possible.

Once you’ve spoken to several installers and are armed with all this knowledge, you can make an informed decision. Take all these aspects into consideration and use them to negotiate exactly what you want. Choosing the right solar installer is arguably the most important step in the solar power process. You can always turn to a trusted solar power marketplace to get a head start and see how much you can be saving.

Photo by skeeze

Sarah Kezer is passionate about helping others take advantage of the power of solar energy. At 123SolarPower, Sarah assists in answering questions and providing expert information for users to explore their options when it comes to going solar. 123SolarPower connects individuals with the largest network of solar power providers in the U.S. Connect with Sarah on Twitter and Facebook. Read all of Sarah’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Make Homemade Biogas Energy, Not Food Waste, at the ‘Complete Biogas’ Workshop

Scraping Food From Plate

Photo by Flickr/jbloom

Some years ago, my wife took a public speaking class. Occasionally, she was supposed to give a speech of her own devising, but like many famous and busy people, she decided to hire a speechwriter. After an extensive international search, I got the job.

One of my favorite speeches that she gave— superbly written, as I recall — was about sugar being the root of all evil. After all, wasn’t sugar responsible for the “triangular” slave trade? In an era without tractors, where else could they get cheap labor? And wasn’t it sugar, made into rum, which caused so much misery? (Some would say rum caused a lot of happiness, too, but hey, we’re trying to prove that sugar is the root of all evil here, so keep your eye on the ball.)

Then there’s sugar and tooth decay, sugar and skull malformations (you could look it up: search for Weston Price), and it is well known that sugar encourages both sloth and licentiousness. (I just made that last part up.)

I’ve decided, though, that food waste sent to landfills runs a close second as the root of all evil. There are a few good reasons to think so.

Food Waste, Hunger, and Climate Change

You might know that worldwide, something like a third or more of the food grown is never eaten: It simply goes to waste. In the U.S., some estimate that 40% of our food is thrown away — and the true figure may be higher than that. It amounts to better than 1,200 calories per person per day in the U.S. In a world where children go hungry, should that happen? In a country where some report that one in six are hungry, should that happen?

All that’s bad, but it gets worse. Much of this food waste is taken to landfills and buried. Nearby oxygen is quickly used up by bacterial life, so the food waste goes anaerobic. It produces biogas, which is almost entirely carbon dioxide and methane, and when that methane escapes into the atmosphere — well, if you were paying attention in science class, you know that methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, contributing to manmade global climate change. Some people say that it is 25 times worse than carbon dioxide, but newer research has demonstrated that, pound for pound, methane produces something between 70 and 100 times the impact of carbon dioxide.

For such reasons, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) says that if the greenhouse impact of food waste were ranked as if it were the output of one of the world’s  nations, it would be third, after the U.S. and China. That is, the impact of global food waste on climate change is greater than the GHG emissions of the entire sub-continent of India, all sectors included.

Further, according to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the production of methane accounts for “about 25% of the manmade global warming.” Finally, the chief scientist of the EDF has said that “by emitting just a little bit of methane, mankind is greatly accelerating the rate of climatic change.”

“Wild” methane turns out to be a big problem, and food waste is an important contributor.

What Can Be Done?

Now, everyone has their own work, to be sure. Some of us will be raising babies to be wonderful human beings; some of us have nine to fives, five out of seven; some of us write speeches. Some have more freedom to choose, some less. Some look up, and some keep their heads down. It takes all kinds, right?

And as well, some of us want to do something about one or more of these Big Problems. We’re pretty sure that life is a wonderful privilege, and therefore, it necessarily comes with important responsibilities. It’s not that we can solve any of these Big Problems all by ourselves. Rather (we think), it’s that everyone has to find their own spot and then stand there and make it a little better.

So, this methane/food waste thing one of these Big Problems. And yet, this methane/food waste thing is, at the same time, a great opportunity. When the methane is produced “in the wild”, it has a dramatic, short-term negative impact on climate change.

But when we deliberately generate biogas from that same would-otherwise-have-been-thrown-away food waste, we gain the lovely, nearly invisible blue-flame energy. We also produce a great fertilizer (the leftover effluent) and the combustion byproducts are carbon dioxide and water, replacing the “wild” methane and reducing the GHG impact to something between 1 and 3 percent of what it otherwise would have been. We have tamed the beast!

Making Biogas Make Sense

The good news is that biogas is easy to make. It’s the only biologically based renewable energy, besides combustion — simple fire — that happens and then persists in nature. (That’s not true of alcohol, not true of biodiesel.) But if you think about it, you already know that, right? ‘Cause we said: Toss food waste into a hole and cover it up, it will generate biogas/methane. So, it can’t be that hard, eh?

Well, yes and no. Yes, it’s blood simple in nature — it happens all by itself. But also no, the biogas biology can be fragile and finicky, although there are ways to make it more stable, if you know what you’re doing.

But the biggest difficulty is that the biogas biology very much prefers to be toasty warm, and the rate of biogas production depends on the internal temperature of the digester. (This spreadsheet will give you some numbers.)

I can’t tell the whole story here and now, but the take-home is that you need an insulated, heated digester where the contents can be stirred or agitated. Otherwise, if the contents of the digester are “at ambient” —  outside air temps — then, even in lovely Florida during the winter months, an unheated digester will stop producing biogas.

Now, if this were still 2016, that would be pretty much the end of the story. 1) Here’s a problem. 2) Here’s a potential solution, but, oops, sorry, 3) you will have to figure out how to make a digester, because there was no low-cost, small-scale, DIY biogas digester widely available which was insulated and heatable.

Learn to Build Your Own Biogas Digester in This Workshop

Homemade Biogas Digester Exploded

[The_Cube] home-scale biogas digester.

 Well, now it seems there is. This new wunderkind is called [The_Cube]. You can read a lot more about it here, if you’d like.

I’ll be writing a lot more about all aspects of this new digester, using this blog to tell you when plans are ready and other Pretty Neat Stuff, so keep coming back to MOTHER’s site for more juicy details. As well, you may want to sign up for email notifications and further information, here.

Meanwhile, we will be teaching workshops — including a Complete Biogas Workshop May 4-8, 2017, in Aurora, Oregon —so that anyone who wants to find out how to build these digesters from parts you can get at your local hardware store: polystyrene insulation (the pink stuff, rigid boards), various bits of lumber, some pipe and such, a small resistance heater, a fountain pump, and a few other items. The first day will be “all about biogas”, and thereafter, we will spend time building one of these digesters, and experiencing some hands-on manufacturing techniques. More details in the link just above.

We won’t be holding anything back, mind you. Come to a “builder’s” workshop and you will learn everything you need to know about how to produce complete digesters from locally purchased materials: as many as you want.

As well, this auspicious year of 2017, one of our main goals will be to work hard to put together everything we need to enable folks to use these digesters (and upcoming designs) to make a business out of saving the planet, one soggy French fry at a time. Further, we will be releasing plans, for those who cannot (yet) attend a workshop, and likewise selling kits. Stay tuned.

In sum, that’s the 411: Food waste, bad. Methane, worse. Biogas, good. You can make it, burn it, gain energy (and high quality fertilizer!), using [The_Cube] and follow-on designs, and you will then be responsible for withdrawing food waste from the landfill and thus doing a very good thing.

You can be a global warming warrior. You can become personally carbon negative!

Homemade Biogas Digester Plan

David William House is the founder of Earthmind, an educational nonprofit that teaches about ecological living, as well as Computer Classroom, ici (computer sales), and an eponymous computer consultancy. He’s the author of Methane Systems, The Complete Biogas Handbook, Journey (a book of poetry), and numerous articles. David is also the designer of a low-cost, plastic-bag-based biogas digester for equatorial belt countries and inventor of a patented new technology for cochlear implants. Find him at The Complete Biogas Handbook and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

DIY solar: how to Build Your Own Solar Panel System


When you install solar panels, your home produces its own clean, zero-emissions electricity. If you’re DIY-minded, you can build your own solar power system. In some cases, you can even build your own solar panels, although the amount that you can effectively DIY home solar depends on how much you want to power. 

Learn How to Make Your Own Solar Panels

Making your own solar panel is a time-consuming process and requires some electrical skills. However, it can also be very rewarding – learning to build your own PV panel is a great way to understand how solar electricity is generated.

Before you can build your own solar panels, you first need to understand how solar cells generate electricity. The vast majority of solar panels in use today are made of crystalline silicon wafers, which typically measure six inches square. When the sun shines on those wafers, the electrons in them start to move. This flow of electrons is an electrical current.

A single full-sized solar panel, like the kind used in rooftop solar power systems, will have 60 silicon wafers. You can also make smaller panels if your electricity needs are low. Once you’ve bought individual solar cells (they can be purchased online), the basic process for building your own solar panel goes like this:

Prepare the backing for your panel. Many DIY solar panel builders use a wooden board as the base for their solar cells. You’ll need to drill holes in the board so that the wires for each cell can pass through.

Wire your solar cells together. This requires some experience with electrical work. Use a soldering iron to attach wire to the solar cells and then link each of the cells together.

Attach cells to your backing. If possible, affix each solar cell to the backing individually. This makes it easier to replace a single cell in the event that becomes damaged or is not operating properly.

At this point you have a functional solar panel that can produce electricity when the sun shines. However, a solar panel by itself is not useful. If you are trying to generate electricity to power devices in your home, you need to pair your panel with an inverter that will turn direct current (DC) power from the sun into the alternating current (AC) power used in most modern electronic devices.

For a standalone off-grid system, you will also need to include a battery pack and charge controller in your DIY solar setup. The battery pack serves to store excess energy, and the charge controller manages the amount of electricity that flows through the battery.

If you want to build a solar panel system that will power your home, the process is significantly more complicated. A standard grid-connected solar PV system that can power your home will have around 20 solar panels, each of which will need to be wired together and mounted to your roof (or in an unshaded ground location on your property). Most importantly, a qualified electrician has to confirm your system has been built correctly before your utility will allow you to connect your panels to the electric grid.

Build Your Own Solar Panel System, or Work With an Installer

Whether you DIY your own solar panel system with a solar kit or work with an experienced solar installer depends on why you want to install solar.

For small-scale off-grid installations, you can DIY it

Solar panels are portable and convenient for a variety of off-grid uses. You don’t even have to build your own solar panels if you don’t want to – there are inexpensive solar panel kits for sale that include each of the components you’ll need for a DIY solar installation. Building your own solar panel system is a good option if you want to construct a small off-grid system to power a cabin, RV, boat, or tiny home. 

For a whole-home solar panel system, work with a solar installer

When it comes to installing a full-scale solar power system on your property, working with a solar installer with significant experience can save you both time and money in the long run. Some of the top solar companies have been installing solar energy systems for decades – experience that no amount of online research or DIY guides can replicate. Your solar installer can also help you find the financial incentives available in your area and complete the permits and applications necessary to get your solar energy system up and running.

To get a sense for how much you can save by installing a solar panel system for your home, review an instant solar estimate from EnergySage’s Solar Calculator. If you’re debating between building your own solar power system and working with an installer, get a few quotes from local solar companies to see what it would cost. You can easily compare options from qualified installers in your area for free by joining the EnergySage Solar Marketplace.

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the solar installation quote that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

3 Predictions For Solar Energy in 2017


Photo by Elijah Hail

Non-hydropower renewables are estimated to grow to 9% of generation by 2018, according to the Department of Energy. So how big of a part will solar energy play in that total? The solar industry is coming off a record-breaking year, with an estimated 13.9 gigawatts (GW) of installed capacity in 2016, by both big business and private citizens.

Corporations installed nearly 1,100 MW of capacity at 2,000 different facilities across the country as of October 2016, and more than 1 million homeowners in the U.S. have chosen to install solar panels on their personal properties. Experts agree that solar power is finding its place in the U.S. energy marketplace, but what’s in store for this hot commodity in 2017? Here are some predictions for this year and what it means for solar power.

Cost of Solar Panels Will Continue to Drop

Solar panel technology has never been more affordable than it was last year, and it’s likely to continue to decline in price. The cost of manufacturing solar panels, and thus the cost to consumers, dropped by roughly 30 percent in 2016 and is even expected to become the cheapest form of new electricity for 2017. This will make solar energy a much more compelling and viable investment for all types of households. As the market become more competitive, homeowners can benefit even more by taking advantage of the best deals. By comparing several systems and installers at once with services like 123SolarPower, the homeowner gets the most suitable offer possible.

The decline in cost also applies to the corporate solar market. “Unsubsidized solar is beginning to out-compete coal and natural gas on a larger scale, and notably, new solar projects in emerging markets are costing less to build than wind projects,” according to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. In the last decade solar installations have grown by 60 percent per year while the cost has fallen by more than 70 percent, says SEIA.

More Technologically Advanced Solar Panels

As with most new technologies, the look and functionality of solar panels continue to develop. Some of the latest types of panels look nothing like the original crystalline silicon cells strapped to people’s roofs. A new product launch by Sunflare brought us “sticky and flexible” solar panels. This new type of panel can be placed onto walls and roofs and does not use glass substrate like traditional panels. The company also boasts that the panel is more environmentally friendly, because it requires less energy to manufacture.

New panels are not only more functional but are also designed to be aesthetically pleasing. Due to criticism for the way solar panels look on top of homes, their appearance has undergone quite a makeover and will likely continue to change in 2017. For example, several manufactures are producing frameless solar modules to streamline the look, and last year, Tesla’s new roof panels blew innovation out of the water with its shingle designs that are practically indistinguishable from a traditional roof. This expansion of solar panel styles will be an additional benefit for homeowners who are looking for a smart investment that will also increase their property value.

Solar Energy Storage Will Become More Affordable

Experts predict that energy storage will become more affordable in 2017. The accessibility to storage devices is a critical piece of the puzzle for widespread renewable energy adoption. The technology of choice thus far has been battery energy storage, lithium-ion batteries to be exact. These types of batteries saw significant price declines in 2016 and can be used in a variety of applications, all of which will help foster solar power adoption this year. Similarly to the solar panels themselves, pricing is a major element in the position of energy storage.

The good news is, a report from Deutsche Bank projects the cost of lithium-ion batteries could fall by 20 to 30 percent a year, bringing commercial or utility-scale batteries to the point of mass adoption before 2020. The energy storage market is forecast to exceed the 2-gigawatt mark in 2021 and valued at almost $3 billion, reports GTM Research.

Several states have introduced policies and programs to support energy storage technology markets with the intent to promote emerging technologies. In 2010, California signed Bill 2514 into law, which adopted a 1.325 GW procurement target for electricity storage by 2020, with targets increasing every two years from 2016 to 2020. States like Florida, which have high exposure to natural disasters, are also recognizing the role that energy storage can play in disaster planning. 115 emergency shelters in the state have installed PV systems with battery storage, which will most likely continue to spread.

The coming year should prove to be another record-breaking one for solar power with the advancement of technologies, making it more affordable and accessible for both commercial and residential uses. If you’d like to see how much it would cost to install solar panels on your home, visit a solar panel marketplace.

Sarah Kezer is passionate about helping others take advantage of the power of solar energy. At 123SolarPower, Sarah assists in answering questions and providing expert information for users to explore their options when it comes to going solar. 123SolarPower connects individuals with the largest network of solar power providers in the U.S. Connect with Sarah on Twitter and Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here. 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Learn How Solar Rebates and Incentives Can Reduce Your Installation Costs

home solar panels

A home solar energy system is one of the best ways to reduce your carbon footprint, increase your home value, and lower your electricity costs for decades to come. In recognition of the many benefits that solar offers for homeowners and the environment, many organizations – including the federal government, states and towns, and electric utilities – have established incentive and rebate programs to lower the cost of solar. Income tax credits, rebates, and tax exemptions are just a few of the incentives that could be available where you live.

State and Federal Income Tax Credits are a Significant Incentive

If you’ve spent any time researching solar, you probably know about the federal investment tax credit for solar. This nationwide incentive, which was recently extended through 2019, allows homeowners to deduct 30 percent of the gross cost of installing solar from their federal income tax. In effect, that means a 30 percent savings off of the list price. 

What you may not know, however, is that some states also offer income tax credits for solar. The state solar tax credit is one of Arizona's best solar incentives, and a diverse set of other states across the country, including New York, Oregon, South Carolina and Utah have similar programs.

Your Local Utility May Offer Rebates

Even if your state doesn’t have a tax credit, you may be able to get cash back on your solar investment with rebates through your electric utility. Many local and municipal utilities across the country, including two of the country’s biggest states for solar, California and Texas, offer solar rebate programs to their ratepayers.

Some of the utility solar rebates in California can reduce your solar costs by 25% or more. Silicon Valley Power’s rebate program, for example, currently offers a $1.25/watt rebate. Just how significant is a $1.25/watt rebate? EnergySage Solar Marketplace customers in California paid an average of $3.62/watt for their solar PV system, which means that a $1.25/watt rebate can cut their solar costs by more than a third.

In Texas, solar rebate programs from utilities are one of the Lone Star State’s biggest solar incentives. Austin Energy, CPS Energy, and other municipal utilities and electric cooperatives will provide rebates if their customers install solar on their homes and businesses.

Sales Tax and Property Tax Exemptions Offer an Additional Savings Opportunity

In addition to its environmental benefits, solar energy is a great way to increase your home's value by tens of thousands of dollars. However, higher property values come with a higher property tax bill. To combat this issue, many states have enacted legislation that prevents solar from being included in appraisals for property taxes. In addition, solar energy equipment is often exempt from sales tax, which can be a significant cost saver in states with high sales tax rates. Tax exemptions are one of the main incentives for solar in Florida

Certain States Have SREC Programs That Can Put Extra Cash in your Pocket

Tax credits, rebates, and tax exemptions are three of the most popular policies that states and local governments use to encourage the adoption of solar. However, a few select states take it a step further – solar system owners can actually make money by selling the solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs) associated with the electricity their panels produce. SRECs are one of the main New Jersey solar rebates and incentives, and can help you save thousands of dollars over the lifetime of your solar panels.

Use a Custom Solar Calculator to Find Out What Solar Will Cost for You

If you’re curious about how much you can save with the financial incentives for solar that are available in your area, use the custom solar calculator at EnergySage. This one-of-a-kind calculator incorporates local utility electricity rates, available incentives, and price data from the EnergySage Solar Marketplace to give you a customized estimate of your 20-year solar savings.

Vikram Aggarwal is the founder and chief executive of EnergySage, the online solar marketplace. EnergySage simplifies the process of researching and shopping for solar. By offering shoppers more choices and unprecedented levels of transparency, EnergySage allows consumers to select the solar installation quote that provides the best value for them, quickly and easily. Read all of Vikram's posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Solar On Its Way to Being Cheapest Power Source Everywhere


Photo by Upsplash

Solar energy has been making serious gains in recent years. Increased awareness of the environmental effect of fossil fuels, improvements in solar technology, rising investments and more widespread adoption have all led to a drop in the price of solar energy. Now for the first time, solar is en route to becoming the cheapest source of power available.

More Countries Using Solar

According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), solar energy is now cheaper than or the same price as fossil fuels in more than 30 countries. WEF also estimated that, within only a few years, two-thirds of countries will reach the same point.

In 2016, the U.S. added about 9.5 gigawatts (GW) of solar power to the grid, making solar the biggest source of added capacity that year. The year 2016 was the first that solar became the power source with the most additions. The number is even higher — 11.2 GW — when including solar installed for homes and businesses, as opposed to only utilities. Countries around the world from Chile to Saudi Arabia to China are adding solar capacity at record paces and energy companies are bidding on solar contracts in auctions at unprecedented lows.

Solar Prices Falling

Ten years ago, generating solar energy cost about $600 per megawatt-hour (MWh) compared to around $100 for coal and natural gas. Today, solar costs about $100 per MWh. The price is expected to keep dropping. By 2025, solar will likely be cheaper than coal across the globe. Solar may be getting cheaper for a number of reasons.

Improvements in technology have made energy from the sun much cheaper to produce. Today, less than half of solar costs come from producing the actual materials, meaning that most of the expenses come from things like installation and connecting to the grid.

Improvements in energy infrastructure, such as installation of smart grids, will likely help make solar more attractive too. An increase in the amount of investment in the solar industry, government subsidies and increased awareness of climate issues are also leading to solar’s increasing popularity.

Effect on Oil and Gas Industries

An unprecedented 16 oil and gas companies went bankrupt this past year, according to a study by accountancy firm Moore Stephens. The report found that this was due to a drop in oil prices from $120 to $50 a barrel, a change many smaller companies were unable to deal with.

The drop is likely due to decreased demand for oil as more consumers are getting their power from renewables. French energy company Engie believes the price may keep falling and even drop to as low as $10.

Looking Forward

Of course, fossil fuels are not entirely out of the picture, but the changes bring to light a shift in the energy industry. Renewable energy has become economically viable, even lucrative, and the industry is taking advantage of that development. Many major energy companies that have been in the fossil fuel for years are now investing in renewables, selling off coal plants and decommissioning nuclear facilities.

It’s could be quite beneficial for companies that have long worked with fossil fuel companies to start collaborating with renewable energy producers as well. For example, the strategic use of fabricated metals for safety issues on oil and gas drilling sites led to a large market for those materials in the fossil fuel industry. Manufacturers could tap into a similar market in the renewables sector. Some are calling on governments, as well, to offer help to workers displaced by a shift toward renewable energy.

Despite all of this growth, investments may not yet be high enough to stop negative effects from climate change. The Paris climate change accord set a goal of $1 trillion for global investments in renewables. Investment today is at 25 percent of that goal.

The research says that solar will likely continue on its way to becoming the world’s cheapest source of energy. How exactly that will affect the economy, the environment and workers remains to be seen.

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living and has an especially strong passion for helping others increase their mental health and happiness by improving their daily productivity and positivity. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on Productivity Theory. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How to Profitably go Solar in 2017: Tips from Hawaii


What comes to mind when you think about Hawaii? It’s likely a combination of ocean waves, palm trees, blue skies and sun. If your mind also moves in the direction of abundant solar energy, you wouldn’t be wrong. Hawaii’s climate and location makes the island a perfect place to collect and apply solar energy. Given this environment, plus high costs of electricity generated by imported fuels facing all island communities — which soar to rates of up to 37.6 cents per kWh — it’s clear why individuals in Hawaii are highly interested in alternative energy options. It’s something literally and figuratively in their nature — Hawaiians share an ethic of independence, one that extends to not being dependent on the grid.

However, in order to reduce fossil fuel reliance and gain energy independence, consumers in the Hawaiian market need to adhere to utility regulations in order to ensure alternative energy use remains profitable. Below are three tips solar users around the world can take from Hawaii’s push to profitably leverage solar energy.

Know the Regulations — and Restrictions — Surrounding Alternative Energy in Your Area

Last year, the Hawaiian Electric Company eliminated net energy metering (NEM) and pushed to instill an interconnection policy that would create certain roadblocks on the journey to grid-connected solar energy. As a result, solar energy risked appearing to be more trouble than it was worth for new investors, despite Hawaii leading the nation for solar penetration rates. In any location, it’s critical for solar users to remain aware of local legislation surrounding alternative energy use, as well as any solutions that can help overcome obstacles.

For example, intelligent inverters and energy storage can help Hawaiian residents — and others around the globe in similar situations — to increase solar power value, avoid the grid’s common problems and reap the benefits of self-generation. Since certain batteries no longer require frequent maintenance or replacement, users can store solar energy during peak hours and apply that power after the sun goes down. With this in mind, the recent HECO changes have resulted in encouraging electricity consumers to consider adding energy storage to realize the best economic payback for their solar investment.

Utility Companies and Consumers Should be Ready to Adapt

When choosing alternative energy sources, consumers are first and foremost interested in reliable, consistent power at economic prices. This intersects with a utility company’s perspective, which sees the entire industry’s delivery dynamics changing.

Previously, utility companies’ revenue came from investments in physical infrastructure — literally putting more steel in the ground. Solar energy decreases the need for such infrastructure while decreasing load growth. In response, utilities are learning new ways to adapt, such as instating metering charges, monthly minimum bills and additional fees. To find a sustainable compromise, utility organizations and consumers should be flexible and prepared to adapt to new systems of energy measurement and billing.

Remember that Energy Independence is Possible with the Right Tools

Alternative and renewable energy is attractive for residents and business owners in cities and rural areas around the globe. It doesn’t matter if an area is rich in solar resources, such as the case in Hawaii, or if most days bring rain instead of sun, such as in Seattle — reducing dependence on fossil fuels and the grid can be a compelling prospect. It’s also a viable option with the use of solutions such as intelligent inverters combined with energy storage.

Consumers should also remember that the best option usually involves teaming up with the grid and not sever relations with it. In many cases, a happy medium, made possible by modern technology, can offer increased independence and improved performance without the hassle of attempting off-grid energy management.

For example, intelligent inverters can charge and maintain batteries while managing grid use, keeping users off the grid for long periods of time and drawing from its resources in order to meet spikes in demand. This process, called “zeroing out,” is a solution to achieving greater independence without the inconvenience of going off the grid. Utility companies remain open to working with consumers to help them achieve their energy goals, and new solar and storage technology is there to help both sides.

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Eric Hill is senior strategic platforms manager at Alpha Technologies, parent company of OutBack Power. He has 8 years’ experience in energy storage focusing on renewable energy, telecom, wireless, industrial utilities, and broadband cable TV. Connect him on LinkedIn, and find OutBack Power on Twitter and Facebook. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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