The sun is a mass of incandescent gas…


As a kid, I used to listen to Tom Glazer’s Space Songs, and particularly a song called “Why Does the Sun Shine?”.  This song (click on the video below to ‘see’ the song and its lyrics) talks about the sun’s power.  So I’ve long been fascinated by solar energy.

Mostly, we’ve been using the sun’s power in the form of long-stored solar energy in the form of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas).  And there have been solar panels for decades, collecting that power in electrical or thermal forms on a local basis.

In our book, Green Project Management, we discussed DESERTEC, a huge effort to harness solar energy from the deserts in northern Africa and distribute it there and to Europe.  DESERTEC will use CSP (Concentrating Solar Power).  This is not theory – it’s real.  And in the US (yes, the United States!), a project called the Ivanpah Solar Energy Generating System is making this real.  Now.

First, we suggest that you view this really short, nice video from the US Department of Energy showing how CSP works.

So that’s more about the theory.  How about reality?

Have a look at the inspirational video below.  If you are a project manager, note the expressions on the peoples’ faces.  The team members “get it”.  This is a project with purpose.  It’s not always easy to do, but this is what really makes a project tick – a diverse team of differently-talented people working towards a common goal in which they all believe.

So, as we always say, there are lessons for sustainability professionals to learn from project managers and there are lessons for project managers to learn from sustainability professionals.  Stay tuned to EarthPM for these lessons and also to keep tabs on projects like Ivanpah.

In the meantime, let the sunshine in!



India and US to collaborate in large solar energy research project



This story is a composite of several press releases (see links below).

India and the United States have started an initiative – a $US50 million project – to develop solar energy through photovoltaic (PV) projects and concentrated solar power (CSP), also known as solar thermal.

This comes four months after India experienced one of the world’s biggest blackouts, which affected more than 680 million people.

The project, dubbed ‘SERIIUS’ (Solar Energy Research Initiative of India and the United States), the project would be conducted by the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Science and the Washington-based National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

“We are expecting the project to produce desirable results within five years,” Rajeev Deshpande, a senior energy official, told an energy conference here.

Unlike traditional solar panels, CSP projects concentrate a large area of sunlight onto a small area of contained liquid. The liquid heats up, emits steam, and a generator converts the steam into electricity.

This is not the first time that the US and India have collaborated on green projects.  Back in 2009 (which seems so long ago as we head into 2013!), the two countries participated in a high-level Energy Partnership.

At EarthPM, it’s our hope, as we head into the new year, that these types of collaborations increase.  Besides the obvious immediate benefit to our field (more project managers!) this is the type of good work that needs to be done to get ourselves less and less dependent on energy sources which aren’t renewable, aren’t clean, and simply no longer make sense in the long-term.

Article from The Hindu
Article from Green Technology
Article from The Deccan Chronicle

A successful story of solar stimulus

A recent front-page story in the Cape Cod Times uncovered a situation where the American recovery and Reinvestment Act (the ARRA – remember that?) has been successful.  And since it involves sustainability and since the words “project manager” and “jobs” were featured heavily throughout the story, we thought we’d share much of it with you here.

Many have clamored against such stimuli, asserting that this is “big government” getting “on our backs” and riding taxpayers.

However in this case, utility-cost-reducing solar panels, thanks to the ARRA, are being installed at Cape Cod Community College.  That article – an interesting read in and of itself, can be found here:

One quote from that article, though, is what caught writer Sean Gonsalves’ attention:

“The total cost of all the (alternative energy) projects (at the college) will come to more than $4 million … an investment tax credit through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act helps make it affordable for the company.”

Gonsalves caught up with Allen Giles, president of Turning Mill Energy, the Sandwich-based company installing the college’s solar panels.

He asked Giles flat-out, does he think these alternative energy investment tax credits, or “subsidies,” are an example of “job killing” big government getting in the way of private-sector growth?

“Actually,” he told Gonsalves, “it’s the opposite.”

The section below is extracted from the article:

Giles (whose father named him after the Allen wrench) pointed out the difference between political rhetoric and reality.

“A tax credit allows successful businesspeople who have a tax burden to take their tax dollar and invest it in new projects, rather than the government giving out grants,” he said.

These sorts of tax credits, Giles explained, puts tax dollars to work directly into a project, which provides an “effective” economic stimulus.

“Traditionally, renewable energy projects were very large,” he said.

“Large investment firms invest in large solar farms and large wind farms because they get paid on putting the deal together. And let’s be honest, they’d rather get 2 percent on $100 million dollars than 2 percent on $1 million.”

The stimulus bill allowed Giles’ company to bring together individuals in the local economy who had a tax burden, and instead of sending taxes owed on investment income to the Internal Revenue Service, it let them reinvest that money in renewable energy projects.

“These tax credits can be used to offset federal tax obligations. That’s putting tax money straight to work, with no overhead associated,” Giles said.

“If I wanted to do the college project before the (stimulus bill), I would’ve gone to a large investment firm. And they pretty much laugh at me because the project wasn’t $100 million,” he said.

The backstory, Giles said, is that Turning Mill used to be a company that built cellphone towers, which was a booming business up until 2006-2007.

Then the recession hit.

“We had close to 25 employees from the Cape region. But, starting with the financial downturn, we had to lay folks off,” he said.

The company had to come up with a new business plan.

They started looking at renewable energy, Giles said, because “to us, putting up a wind tower is same process as putting up cell towers.”

Giles said the stimulus bill and the commonwealth’s 2008 Green Community Act, which allowed for renewable energy to be sold to electricity suppliers, “was kind of like the perfect storm.”

“We’ve hired back a lot of the people we had to let go,” Giles said.

And Turning Mill jobs aren’t low-wage service and retail jobs.

“We’re talking about permitting specialists, engineers and project managers. Also, we were able to hire our own crews — electricians and laborers,” Giles said.

The best part, he said, is that Turning Mill is diving into the local labor pool.

“We’ve found the local pool to have tremendous experience in this line of work,” he said. “We are the poster child for taking advantage of thoughtful legislation.”

Imagine, if the community college trained the specialists, engineers, project managers and electricians of tomorrow, helping to stave off the economically harmful demographic trend of young people leaving the Cape in search of jobs.

Of course, to understand the Cape’s economic interests clearly, we have to cut through the stormy rhetoric and see reality.

So in this case – and we would imagine that –  although Cape Cod is a nice and unique place – this scenario is, or could be repeated all over the US, if people would have the long-term thinking and creativity to do what’s being done at Cape Cod Community College with the ARRA tax credits.

More jobs, more projects, more project managers, and greater sustainability.  As Michael Scott, of The Office would say, “it’s all good”.


Sunny Savings – A guest blog post from Brent Hardy of Extraspace

Sunny Savings

Solar energy costs reaching average consumer price range

Whether you’re looking into selling your home or staying in it a while, now is a really good time to look into the value of solar energy in homes. For long-term homeowners, the cost of installing a system has dropped dramatically over the past couple of years, and for those looking to sell, the value of homes with solar energy systems installed is on the rise.

For states with solar installation incentives, solar energy systems, or photovoltaic (PV) energy systems, in homes are on the rise and real estate agents are scrambling to keep up.

According to a 2011 study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (, there is significant evidence that solar powered homes are selling for a premium over standard homes. And according to Ben Hoen, lead author of the study and Berkeley Lab researcher, not only are the sales price premiums about the same as the average investment a homeowner would have to make to install a solar energy system, the homeowner would also get to enjoy the savings on his or her utility bill before selling the home.

There are also benefits to the home buyer, such as the significant savings (from a U.S. average of $100 a month to the possibility of $2.20 a month; on their utility bills and in some cases, the fact that they could make money if they are in a state that offers net metering. Through net metering, home owners with solar power are able to sell back the unused power generated by their home to the utility company.

On an economic side note, along with saving homeowners some needed funds, solar energy is also creating jobs; not only for solar home installation and sales, but also in green home education. To keep up with all the benefits and improvements being made through green home building and home improvements, new companies are starting to blossom such as Ecobroker International (, an organization that educates real estate agents in green home sales.

Saving money with solar

If things are looking up with solar home sales, then how has the cost for installing a solar energy system in your home improved, if at all?
It’s actually doing a lot better than most people think, according to Dr. Joshua Pearce, Adjunct Professor of the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Queens University in Ontario (

In a recent study, Dr. Pearce found that many analysts looking to determine the average cost of solar energy installation don’t take into account the fact that just the cost of solar panels is 70 percent less than it was in 2009. Additionally, several advancements have been made over the past few years in solar panel technology leading to more cost effective products.

Savings on solar don’t just stop at the physical product, either. As of 2008, the U.S. government extended a federal tax credit allowing up to 30 percent credit on residential and commercial solar installations for the next eight years. From there, you can look to your state for even more savings. Many states currently offer great tax incentives on solar installation. For example, the state of Massachusetts offers a solar rebate program that pays homeowners a base incentive of $750/kw to install a solar energy system in their home plus an additional $100/kw if you purchase your panels in state, as well as a sales and property tax exemption for 20 years. This on top of a 15 percent state tax credit for installing the system and a net metering program that allows energy companies to buy excess power generated by your home (

You can find out what incentives your state offers by visiting the Database for State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency ( or at (

Just a little sun

If you’re still a little cloudy on solar power, or if you’re renting a home and have a good relationship with your landlord, you could also consider solar leasing. Solar leasing allows you to forego the bulk of the upfront costs of solar power installation and just pay for your solar power on a month to month basis. You still save money and add to your green footprint without the hassle of dealing with a long term commitment. To find out if solar leasing is available near you, check out websites such as One Block off the Grid ( and Sun Run Home ( for providers.

The U.S. Department of Energy provides a lot of useful information on solar power installation in your home. For details, visit or check out the “Own Your Power!” online booklet provided by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory at

Brent Hardy is Vice President of, responsible for all corporate construction & facilities management. He writes about corporate sustainable practices at

Here comes the sun

We’re not fond of taking sides in politics.

But we do like to note when something works.  Especially when that something results in more projects, more PM jobs, and a better outcome for this particular 3rd- rock-from-the-sun.

Today’s Boston Globe newspaper has a short but powerful (excuse the pun) story about how Massachusetts – not exactly the Sunshine State – is tied for second place in the US with Hawaii for the lead in solar projects.  And the reason, at least partially, is subsidies from the government of the Commonwealth.  See the included chart on the left for the top states in the USA, and the chart on the right to see the (cloudy) truth about Massachusetts, in terms of weather.

From the story, here are some extracts.  We strongly encourage you to read the whole thing at the Globe’s site.

Massachusetts is no California when it comes to sun. But that isn’t stopping the solar energy industry from flourishing here.

Massachusetts, better known for long, cold winters, gloomy springs, and gale-driven nor’easters, is undergoing an unlikely solar power boom, attracting solar companies from around the country that are installing systems for homeowners, businesses, and institutions.

Only California has a better solar market than Massachusetts, which tied Hawaii in rankings by Ernst & Young, the Big Four accounting firm that tracks the alternative energy industry. Massachusetts was the only northern state to crack Ernst & Young’s top 10, beating Florida (the Sunshine State), Arizona (home of the Sun Devils), and New Mexico (sun symbol on the state flag).

Here’s an example of one success story:

SolarCity of San Mateo, ­Calif., a six-year-old installation company with 1,800 employees nationwide, entered the Massachusetts market in early 2011. The company installs solar panels at no cost to customers, then sells them power generated by the system, which SolarCity continues to own. The company is then able to take advantage of federal and state subsidies.

Ed Steins, SolarCity’s regional director, said the company already services more than 800 residential and commercial buildings in Massachusetts and has tripled its local staff to 45 from 15 since September.

Among SolarCity’s customers is Tom McDougall, 53, of Whitman. SolarCity installed a 6-kilowatt system on the roof of McDougall’s two-story Colonial. Since the system began operating in February, McDougall said, he has cut his electricity bills in half, paying SolarCity about $60 a month for electricity, compared with the $115 a month, on average, that he paid his utility.

Analysts at Ernst & Young, which does the comparative study of the states, has good insight on the story.


Again, from the story:

“It’s not a matter of how sunny it is,” said Michael Bernier, a senior manager at Ernst & Young. The “thing Massachusetts has been really good at is setting up an environment that helps renewable energy projects get done.”

That environment starts with New England’s traditionally high energy costs that can make photovoltaic systems more competitive here. Meanwhile, the falling solar panel prices, which have plunged more than 50 percent in the past two years, have combined with solar-friendly local policies to make solar installations even more attractive to homeowners and businesses.

So, perhaps the ‘environment’ – in this case, the business/political environment – has a more profound effect on solar projects that previously thought.  If that’s the case, as a project manager, you ought to be at least considering the support of regulations and incentives to bring more solar power to your state or territory.