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.

Solar – Fact, not Fiction


Recently we reviewed the book Solar by Ian McEwan.  In that book, a fictional tale, the protagonist, Michael Beard, developed a means to generate energy using artificial photosynthesis – basically emulating what nature does with a leaf.

Well, here in this posting, we have a real protagonist (a much nicer man than Beard, I’m sure) who HAS a beard, doing much the same thing. His name is not Michael, though, it’s Dan.  Dan Nocera, and he’s a chemist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  According to Scientific American,

One drinking-water bottle could provide enough energy for an entire household in the developing world if Dan Nocera has his way. A chemist from M.I.T. and founder of the company Sun Catalytix, Nocera has developed a cobalt-based catalyst that allows him to store energy the same way plants do: by splitting water.

Have a look at this video.

Even better, here is Nocera describing his team’s discovery in this video.

The full Scientific American article, entitled, “Will Artificial Photosynthesis Power The World?” can be read here.

Why, you may be asking, is this on a project management blog?  Well, this is an example of a research project which has turned into a business which will be deploying energy projects and will be in need of project managers.  That’s why.  And you should know that there’s stimulus money around to help these research projects at ARPA-E.

In fact, your EarthPM bloggers wandered over to Dan Nocera’s company’s site at Sun Catalytix, and found that they are hiring.  Not project managers, yet – product development engineers, and electrochemists, but where there’s product development, there’s a project.

So that’s the East Coast side of the story.

There’s a West Coast side as well.

Researchers with the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have now found that nano-sized crystals of cobalt oxide can effectively carry out the critical photosynthetic reaction of splitting water molecules. Heinz Frei, a chemist with Berkeley Lab’s Physical Biosciences Division, and his postdoctoral fellow Feng Jiao reported the results of their study in the journal Angewandte Chemie, in a paper entitled: “Nanostructured Cobalt Oxide Clusters in Mesoporous Silica as Efficient Oxygen-Evolving Catalysts.”

This article from which the above is extracted, featuring the work of the Helios laboratory at UCal Berkely, can be read in its entirety here.

The goal of Helios SERC (Solar Energy Research Center) is to produce carbon-neutral transportation fuels using solar energy as the source of stored energy.  SERC pursues a route that doesn’t include biological photosynthesis or biomass. Instead, SERC is involved in using sunlight to drive chemical reactions that can reform the atoms in water and carbon dioxide into liquid transportation fuels. This route does not depend on arable land, but does depend on a significant amount of captured sunlight and carbon dioxide.

West Coast….East Coast…worldwide…

Bottom line: Solar power will eventually play an important role in powering up the grid.  Be smart and let it help power up your project management career!