Friday, December 18, 2009

Flying Blind: Our Friend TED Takes a Holiday

Sarah didn’t like TED when he first came to live with us. I think she found him to be a bit of a nag. However, yesterday TED left for an extended vacation at a friend’s home and Sarah, only hours after his departure, stated, “I miss TED”. I do too.

TED is our indoor electric meter. We keep him on the stove in the kitchen when he is in residence. This is a good location; one where he can frequently remind us about our energy use. If we turn on a light or a computer or take a shower TED immediately starts counting the kilowatt-hours. He is pretty sensitive (10-watts or more). TED tells us how much power we lose to phantom loads each day. He knows how much energy it takes to run an on-demand electric hot water heater (1 shower = 1 kWh). As the day moves along TED keeps adding up the kW and keeps track of our running monthly total as well.

TED is an example of what all houses should be equipped with. Traditionally electric meters are on the outside of a home. Electric meters on the outside of a home are somewhat akin to having a gas gauge in your car’s trunk. If you can’t read the gauge while driving then you can’t hope to efficiently operate the vehicle – you’d have to keep stopping and getting out to check the fuel level!

An electric meter on the inside of the home should be standard equipment. Managing use is dependent on understanding demand. TED helps us understand our day-to-day and month-to-month energy use. He helps us to be better consumers. That’s why we miss TED. For us, it is important to see a real-time record of our consumption – it helps us exercise better use of electricity at home. The feedback from TED when you turn off a light or turn on an appliance is immediate and quantitative. Without this kind of reinforcement we are simply acting on intuition – driving a car without a fuel gauge?

More about TED is at
We use the 1001 model, but there are now several enhances versions available.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The SREC: Revenue from Renewables

We just sold our first SREC and I’m stoked. It looks like we can afford to buy the cats another package of toy mice to keep them enthralled during another long West Virginia winter.

SRECs are Solar Renewable Energy Credits. These are also called, “RECs” for short. The market for RECs is growing thanks to the institution of aggressive Renewable Portfolio Standards or RPSs. That’s a lot alphabet soup, but the upshot is that ordinary homeowners like ourselves can receive payment for the clean power that we make with our PV system.

A SREC is equivalent to 1,000 kWh. The value of a SREC varies, but this most recent sale saw the price at $290/SREC. SREC sale value will differ from state to state and sale to sale. Some states, like New Jersey, see a SREC sale price that can be closer to $650. Companies who purchase SRECs are really purchasing the positive environmental benefits that go along with clean power generation – they are obliged to buy these to offset some of the pollution that traditional fossil fuel sources produce.

The clean energy we produce is worth more than the fossil fuel power that our local utility sells. Our SREC revenue represents $0.29/kWh while retail rate for utility power in our region of West Virginia is $0.07/kWh. The power that we produce from solar is therefore worth the avoided cost ($0.07/kWh) + SREC value ($0.29/kWh) which equals $0.36/kWh – more than five times the retail value!

Our SREC sale was handled by This company holds a monthly auction to sell SRECs in a variety of different states within the regional PJM grid network. The SREC market is one that is still fairly new, but may become stronger as state RPSs ramp up and require utilities to provide a greater and greater portion of their power from clean sources. Even at this early stage, the sale of SRECs is providing a revenue stream to home and business owners who have taken the initiative to produce some, or all, of their power with solar technology.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Virginia Rebates – New and Now No More

Poof! Just like that, it’s over and done. The Virginia renewable energy rebate program, begun on November 1, 2009, stopped accepting applications yesterday, November 18, 2009. The program, endowed with 15 million dollars, was overwhelmed by applicants and after less than twenty days is depleted. Incredible.

That’s bad news if you were hoping to cash in on the rebate program. On the positive side it shows that there is a mass of humanity that is eager to install solar and wind power equipment at their homes and businesses - a groundswell for distributed generation of clean power (PIMBY).

The Virginia Department of Mines Minerals and Energy provided oversight for the rebate program. You can check out their rebate program page to learn a bit more about the program. There is some suggestion here that a second round of applications may be entertained at a later date.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

That Miracle of Geography

I need to share something that I just recently learned at this year’s West Virginia Wind Working Group. The working group meeting is an annual event that is usually well attended. I like to go to learn a little bit about the big wind companies and the projects that they have ongoing – I just find it very interesting.
This year I missed the morning session, but I did have the pleasure of listening to Erik Duncan from Invenergy LLC whose talk was entitled “The Cost of Developing and Constructing Wind Farms.” Invenergy works all over the U.S. developing wind farms. In WV they are most famous for the Beech Ridge farm that is under development in Greenbrier County and which has struggled due to a lot of opposition. What I found most striking about the talk was the fact that it costs six times as much to develop a wind farm in the Appalachians as it does to develop one in the Midwest.
Now I might have missed the significance of this, but a fellow audience member asked for clarification and this really peaked my interest. If it costs six times more then why develop here in West Virginia? The simple answer was that the sale price for the electricity makes it more than worthwhile. Wow!
OK. So let’s look at a map. The premium market for electricity is the east coast. Aside from developing coastal wind farms what is the next best location? That’s right….check out the bulls eye on West Virginia. (You can click on the map to make it easier to see.)

Wind, like coal, is an energy resource that is driven by geography/geology. You either have it or you don’t. West Virginia has a wind resource that is highly rated and relatively close to a premium market. As renewable portfolio standards go into effect in neighboring states the value of wind power will increase dramatically. We, as West Virginians, need to be aware that what we have is unique and highly valuable. It would behoove our state legislators to be aware of this fact too so that they don’t sell us out for a wink and a handshake. At present, utility-scale wind projects receive a 30% break on B&O taxes and their property tax is assessed at only 24.95% of the fair market value. These state “incentives” short change county government and the residents of the counties in which the wind farms are installed. Given the growth in the renewable energy market and the geographic advantage that West Virginia maintains it would probably be a wise move to end the incentives or drastically revise them so that local governments see more revenue from these projects. It’s geography, not incentives that make West Virginia an attractive (albeit difficult) location for wind farm development.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Windy Days for Wind Turbines in WV

With the arrival of the cold front yesterday we have emerged from late summer doldrums and officially entered the windy season.

I ran out to Sheeps and Peeps Farm this AM to take some video with the digital camera. The Bergey Excel-S turbine was jammin! Some video highlights include Sampson (the dog) howling (he sounds like an owl), wind chimes, the turbine pegging its nameplate rating (10kW), and the utility meter "spinning" backward.

One note about the spinning backward; the new digital meters have a set of bars that emulate the pace and direction of electrons through the meter. These dial emulators are hard to see and are not nearly as exciting as the traditional dial-style meters.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

FPL Big Wind Gets a Transmission Change

Sarah and I drove out for a Sunday bike ride last week and were lucky enough to stumble upon a transmission change at the FPL Mountaineer Windfarm. The following pictures demonstrate the scale of these large utility machines. These are considered to be 1.5MW machines. This was the first wind farm in West Virginia. The machines are seven years old (they may have a 25-year service life)

This spot off of Rt. 219 is one that catches a lot of attention. Many visitors to the county hit their brakes when they make the turn and come face to face with one of these big turbines. The gawking caused the Division of Highways to install "No Parking" signs.

We did some gawking along with several other curious motorists. Most of this windfarm is off limits to the public. So the best spots to see the machines are from Rt. 219. The machine receiving the work is at the southernmost end of the farm and is easily the most accessible.

The clamp to take down the spinner was installed on Sunday, but the weather wasn't suitable for taking the assembly off of the machine. I made it back on Monday just after the spinner had been lowered to the ground.

Once the spinner was down the top of the nacelle had to be removed. I was hoping to hang out and watch the entire transmission swap, but things slowed down once the transmission was on the ground (maybe it was lunch time). Anyway, I had to shove off and get to work myself so I missed the reassembly of the turbine.

These wind machines are dramatically different from what I work with. Most small wind machines don't use a transmission and tend toward fewer moving parts. Fewer moving parts = fewer wear points and less maintenance.

Friday, August 28, 2009

NY Times: More Sun for Less........

NY Times readers have been forwarding me the August 26, 2009 article, “More Sun for Less: Solar Panels Drop in Price”. Many thanks to Sarah, Pete, and Richard who passed along links!

Solar panels are often the most expensive component of a PV (photovoltaic) system. The drop in price is really a big deal. The drop is being driven by a glut of panels on the market. Demand serves to keep the cost of these panels up. I run into a lot of folks who like to postulate that price will come down as more folks buy the technology. I find this outlook to be a bit jingoistic. They assume that because no one on their cul-de-sac has solar panels that this must be a fledgling industry suffering from an inability to mass produce a product. To understand the economics that drive the cost of solar technology you have to look beyond the borders of the U.S. Europe and Asia drive this market. The U.S. is a solar backwater.

Less than 35% of GE PV panels were slated for the U.S. market in 2006

The NY Times article highlights the cessation of solar incentives in Spain as one reason for the glut in PV panels. Spain has chosen to stop incentivizing solar just as the U.S. is beginning to ramp up its incentives. Of course, Spain’s decision isn’t the only causative agent, the beleaguered global economy is also driving the drop in price. The price drop and the increase in U.S. incentives may be just the formula to help popularize solar in the States. That is exciting!

So how much cheaper are solar panels? I disagree with the Times perspective that reports a 40% decrease in cost. What I’ve seen is a drop that ranges between 11% - 20%. Not bad. Eventually I think the cost will come back up. As more homes and businesses in the U.S. step up to produce their own clean power demand for panels will increase. I imagine we may rapidly see a rebound in price, but in the meantime this is an outstanding opportunity to combine low prices with state and federal incentives and “go solar.”

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sheeps and Peeps (and Wind Turbines)

The barnyard has a new addition.......

This is the new 10K Bergey wind turbine at the Sheeps and Peeps Farm in Preston Co., WV. The turbine is grid-tied and it provides power to the house, barn, and office.

The sheep seemed to be generally unconcerned by the new wind machine. Sampson, the pasture pup, was a bit agitated by the strange spinning thing, but he has made peace and is now focusing on finding the left over fat scraps that he neglected during the installation.

Sheeps and Peeps Farm specializes in hand-dyed yarns. The dyes are derived naturally and some of the colors are really fantastic. You can find their merchandise on Etsy. I was lucky enough to start this job during the spring lambing season and so I not only got to see the workshop/office but also the barn in full swing.

The powerhead is shown here prior to mounting on the tower. This tower is an 80' freestanding tower - no guy wires. The powerhead weighs about 950 lbs, thus the mechanical assistance from Tim who took time out from haying to help.

When you get a box of this caliber the possibilities are vast. Clubhouse, lemonade stand, veterinarian office, new PIMBY Energy corporate headquarters......who knows.