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SEPCO's blog on all things renewable and green

Solar Tax Credit Facts and Information: Use It Before It Runs Out

Posted by SEPCO

1/26/15 10:00 AM

Federal-Solar-Tax-CreditThe solar tax credit helps homeowners and businesses alike to lower the cost of using solar for their home and business. This tax credit provides a 30% Federal Tax Credit that can be applied to homeowners towards their personal income tax or to businesses to apply towards their Federal business income tax. This can add up to huge savings. And if all of the money isn’t used that year, it can be rolled over to the next, up to five consecutive years.

The Federal Solar Tax Credit is only good till December 31st, 2016 and the solar project needs to be purchased and installed before that date. This leaves just under 2 years left to take advantage of this and there is no word yet to extend the program. The best information in regards to the Federal Incentives is DSIRE – Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency. Best of all, they have a complete list of all state and local incentives as well sorted by state to increase the savings of a renewable energy project, not just solar.

Who Qualifies?

Residences qualify for their home, whether new construction or existing, and for their first and second residences; however, rental properties do not fall under this program. This is for full installations and not for PPA – Solar Power Purchase Agreements or Solar Leases as the tax credit goes to the company  you work with instead as the savings is typically already figured into your agreement.

For Profit Businesses qualify for their business, both new and existing construction. These systems typically are much a larger scale than a system for a residential application and are almost always completely owned by the business.

How To Calculate?

Both residential and businesses applications include the purchase and installation when calculating the tax credit; the only difference is how discounts are calculated. With residential applications, if the owner is able to get a state, local or utility rebate, that amount is deducted before you do the final calculation for the Federal Tax Credit. For example, a $20k system that qualifies for a $5k state rebate is then only calculated as $15k on the Federal side.

Businesses on the other hand get the complete $20k as their Federal Tax Incentive regardless of the rebates and other incentives they qualify for. This is due to the way the IRS considers the other incentives. Businesses pay taxes on all incentives as the IRS considers it income, whereas with residential, the IRS considers it a reduction in cost.

Other Incentives

There is a lot of information in regards to all other types of incentives on DSIRE’s website; however, there are other resources available. Doing a good search online and asking your local solar representative is the best way to find all the incentives available for you. Most solar companies have a good familiarity with incentives that are available and would be able to do the search to help you find everything that is available.

What About Nonprofits?

Nonprofit companies are not able to take advantage of the Federal Tax Credits and are stuck with the whole bill; however, there is some hope. There are grants that nonprofits are able to take advantage of which can be found online. Other suggestions include fundraising (get your community involved in what you are trying to accomplish), crowdfunding (so much good can come from a crowdfunding campaign) and leasing (let the solar company take advantage of the incentives and give you a lower price). There are more details in a post done last year: Finding Funds for Nonprofits Renewable Energy Projects.

In the end, no matter what your project is backed by, there is funds available to make your solar project come to life. Speak to your solar specialist to see what they can do to help work through the red tape and make the sun shine on your solar system.

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Topics: Solar Power, Funding

Determine The Best Way To Implement Pathway Lighting In 3 Easy Steps

Posted by SEPCO

1/19/15 9:30 AM

Solar Powered Pathway LightingPathway lights cover a myriad of different areas. They can be small walkways like in front of a house or through landscaping, or large walkways like those around a college campus or park. Adequate lighting allows for people along the pathway after dark to be able to see where they are going and provide visibility to their surrounding areas. To ensure these pathways are properly illuminated, there are a few steps to follow to determine what sort of lighting would be required.

Step 1 - Determine what type of pathway will be illuminated.

Small pathways that are only a foot or two wide in gardens or along a home do not require much lighting other than illuminating the footpath as there is typically other lighting to illuminate the surrounding area. These are typically illuminated with small pagoda or bollard style lighting that only provides the light at a very low level.

Larger pathways that are over three feet wide will require high powered bollard fixtures or overhead fixtures to provide a large area of light. With LED lighting and advanced optics, these fixtures can provide lighting to just the path, or the path and surrounding areas for added security. These areas also characteristically require even illumination which cannot be provided by small, low powered fixtures.

Step 2 - Determine how to power the light fixtures.

These types of fixtures can be either standard grid powered or solar powered. Standard electrical power requires the use of underground wiring and should be implemented in the planning phase of a project to not disturb the landscaping or require for breaking up concrete to trench under. The electrical lights can be set on a timer to only be on during the times they will be needed, or the lights can operate all night.

Solar powered pathway lighting such as solar bollards or solar pagoda lights can be designed two ways. The first way is to have every light have its own solar power source, typically fixed to the top of the fixture. These fixtures provide the lighting where needed; however, they are prone to vandalism, and due to the flat panel design, do not get the full advantage of the sun, especially when there is inclement weather such as snow or cloudy weather. These types of fixtures also can only be located in sunny areas and cannot be installed under trees or nearby something that can cast a shadow on the solar during the day. They also do not typically operate all night or have much for backup power if they are not able to be fully charged by the sun the following day.

Using a single solar power source that is remotely installed with full access to the sun to provide the power for multiple fixtures provides added security since these types of solar power assemblies are more vandal resistant and can be located in a more secure location or high up on a pole with the fixtures installed anywhere they are needed, even in the shade. They are typically mounted at an angle facing south to take full advantage of all the power the sun can provide. The solar power assembly provides more power than integrated fixtures with solar as well as much more backup power for inclement weather periods.

Solar powered pathway lights are the perfect solution for lighting an area that does not have electrical power nearby or as an afterthought to an existing area. They can also be set on a timer for specific operation times or operate all night for areas, such as a hospital, that are open all night.

Step 3 - Determine the architectural requirements of the area.

Is the pathway located in an industrial or historic area? Are there fixtures that would need to be matched already located nearby? With the number of light fixture styles available, there is sure to be a fixture to meet the architectural needs of the project.

LEDs have advanced and can provide similar lighting levels for each fixture style. Learn about the fixture designs and talk to your local lighting company to determine if they can meet your requirements. Since LEDs are easily integrated with solar power systems, the requirement for a solar option no longer keeps you confined to only a small selection of fixtures.

Following these three steps will help you determine what the best solution to your project is. Speak with your lighting representative to see what solutions they can provide you for your project and all the options they have available to meet your needs. With the advancements in the lighting industry happening every day, now is a great time to explore your options in solar lighting.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Pathway Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Advantages and Benefits of Solar Power Systems

Posted by SEPCO

1/12/15 10:40 AM

In 2012, I went to Wiki Answers to help provide you a post on the Solar Power Advantages and Disadvantages. In the last three years, a lot has changed in the solar industry and I thought it was time to reevaluate these and see what has changed over time and focus more on the positive, but don’t worry, we’ll hit the disadvantages to be fair.

Financial Advantage of Solar Power:

One of my favorite sites One Block Off The Grid (Now Pure Energies) provided an Infographic the year I wrote the original article: How Much Does Solar Cost? that showed the average cost and savings around the US at the time. SEIA states that as of Quarter 2 of 2014, solar prices have decreased 64% from 2010 and installations have increased dramatically. Between 2012 and 2014, the average price of traditional energy sources increased around 5% over the last two years and is projected to increase even more (see the Short-Term Energy Outlook provided by the EIA). With the large decrease of solar and the steady increase of standard forms of energy, solar is making more and more financial sense.

Pure Energies Infographic

That’s not the only financial advantage…for two more years; the Federal Tax Incentives are still available along with many state and local incentives that increase the financial savings of installing solar. These are mostly available for companies, groups and individuals who pay taxes; however, for all the non-profit organizations, there is still money available through grants for solar power and other solar rebates and incentives. There is a lot of financial assistance available to help lower the cost of the solar system even further.

Green Benefits of Solar Power:

Keep Calm and Go SolarSolar power is a renewable resource. Every day, enough solar energy hits the Earth’s surface to power the total requirement of energy for 27 years says the Texas Solar Energy Society. That is a lot of power! Harnessing this requires a lot of solar installations, and over the course of the last couple years, we have been able to increase the amount of solar energy we can harness. 2014 alone provided an increase of over 100% from the installations of 2013 says Renewable Energy World, from 6,048 GWh in 2013 to 17.5 GWh in 2014. These solar installations will continue to produce power for 25 years or more with little to no maintenance.

With all this growth, the amount of CO2 that has been diverted is amazing, and it doesn’t just stop there, it will continue the longer these systems operate and the more installations that are completed. And these benefits are not just for the local area, homeowner or business with the installation, the installations have a ripple effect on their surroundings and across the globe. The more solar we install, the more we work together to combat greenhouse gas emissions and global warming as we are lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

Economic Benefit of Solar Power:

Green JobsNot only does solar power save money and lower our dependence on fossil fuels, the job creation has been huge for the solar industry. As of 2013, there were over 142,000 Americans working in the solar industry with new jobs being added all the time. A great overview of the jobs provided by the solar industry can be found on The Solar Foundation National Solar Jobs Census 2013. The more jobs the solar industry creates, the more solar systems get installed, the more we save.

Recently we learned that a select number of companies are also offering solar power systems to their employees in the Group Energy programs. This is a great concept and one that hopefully will catch on all over the US in 2015. Employees do not receive free solar; however, they do get a discount on their home solar power assemblies. Best of all, this discount can also be used in conjunction with the 30% Federal tax credit. Talk about a job perk.

Disadvantage of Solar Power:

Okay, we covered the three most prominent advantages of solar power, and those are quite heavy players, so what about the disadvantages of solar power? There are still a few things to consider, such as efficiencies are still not as high as we’d like to see in the mass market, still hovering around 15% to 20%, but advances are constantly happening to increase this efficiency rating.

Also, areas with a lot of overcast or foggy weather do not perform as well as areas with a lot of available sun. This doesn’t mean that these areas shouldn’t install solar, but it may be more efficient to combine solar with other technologies such as wind power as well. This would also allow for power generation to occur even at night.

All in all, solar is becoming more viable of a source of energy, and combined with other renewable energy sources, is working towards lowering our dependence of fossil fuels and will keep us moving in the right direction to fight global warming. All solar power systems, large and small, provide some form of an impact to our environment for the positive.

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Topics: Green Ideas, Solar Power

Happy New Year 2015

Posted by SEPCO

1/1/15 9:30 AM

Green little eCard to say Happy New Year! Welcome to 2015
Happy-New-Year-2015
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Topics: Holiday

2014 SEPCO Blog Year in Review

Posted by SEPCO

12/30/14 9:30 AM

SEPCO_Blog_2014_Review 

We wanted to highlight our top 5 articles for 2014 and provide you a little peek at what is coming up in 2015. We also wanted to thank our readers for continuing to come back for more information on solar lighting, solar power, green ideas and renewable energy news and information.

  1. 13 Solar and Lighting Terms to Know

This article covers a lot of terms found in the solar power and lighting industry and what they are actually referencing. This information is great to get you well-informed on industry terms and their meanings when communicating with a solar power or lighting company.

  1. Solar Street Light Components: What’s in Your System?

This article covers the different components that are in a commercial solar lighting system and the variations that can occur. There are many options and knowing what should be included in any commercial solar street lighting system will help you make sure you get all the necessary components to operate the system correctly.

  1. Why a Minimum of Five Days Autonomy is Important for Off Grid Solar

Five days / nights autonomy is required to make sure your solar power / lighting system operates as intended and provides reliability and longevity to the systems. This article covers why this is needed and how, in more northern climates, this can make or break a system.

  1. What You Need To Know About Light Distribution Patterns

Distribution patterns ensure that the required area you need to light is covered by the fixture or fixtures. Different distribution patterns are used for different applications. This article reviews them and explains the different applications each type of light pattern is used for.

  1. 4 Questions to Answer Before You Get a Solar Lighting Quote

There are four primary questions that should be asked before you get a quote and this article covers them and why. These questions make sure you are not getting a packaged “off-the-shelf” system that may or may not work how you expect it to for your application.

That wraps it up for 2014 and the SEPCO Blog. We here at SEPCO wish you a wonderful and fruitful 2015. See you on the flip side.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, SEPCO News & Information, Solar Power, LED Lighting

Merry Christmas 2014

Posted by SEPCO

12/25/14 9:30 AM

From the Solar Electric Power Company Family to Yours...
Christmas_2014
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Topics: Holiday

Just a Little More LED Lighting Knowledge (Video)

Posted by SEPCO

12/23/14 2:21 PM

So I was browsing the internet looking for one final post to write for the year (well, writing now, not publishing last, but anyways) and I came across this great video from a Google Hangout between Lisa Reed from Envision Lighting Design and Greg Aranda from Graybar. The original post is Shedding Light on LED Lighting and it is a great article that goes over the new LED technology and some basic information. The video at the end of the post, or just below, shines even more light on the topic of LEDs and I wanted to share this information with you all.

 

 

There is some really great information in this 38 minute presentation; however, here’s a quick overview of what is covered.

Lisa goes over some great facts about LEDs including the lower energy consumption, lasting longer lighting and the lower maintenance factor. She even goes as far as showing a side by side comparison of LEDs vs HID lighting output and showing that not every light is the same. Finally she goes through the metrics you need to consider for LED lights.

LED_Lighting_CityLight Energy Metrics:

  • Candela (CBCP) – The light energy leaving in one specific direction
  • Lumen – The total light energy leaving a fixture
  • IES Files – Lighting calculation files from the Illuminating Engineering Society
  • BUG – Backlight, Uplight, Glare which replaces cutoff ratings for outdoor lighting

Electrical Metrics:

  • Watts – Power consumption
  • Efficacy – Lumens per Watt
  • Efficiency – Percent of total Lumens that leaves a fixture (Not used with LEDs)
  • Power Factor
  • Input Voltage
  • THD – Total Harmonic Distortion
  • UL/ETL/CSA – Independent lab tests for safety

Cost Metrics:

  • Initial Cost
  • Lifetime Cost
  • Warranty

Performance Metrics:

  • Projected Life
  • Dimmability
  • Flicker

The video goes on to explain the Color Temperature (CCT) and understanding how the lighting varies between different color temperatures and how this affects the visibility of different lights. This moves along into explaining the Color Rendering Index (CRI) and how this is an older way of determining lighting and now we need to use the R9 value as well as the standard CRI ratings. Finally, dealing with color of lighting, the Spectral Power Distribution (SPD) is covered to show the difference between different lighting types and how LEDs fall into this.

Finally, she compares old style lighting, both indoor and outdoor, to what is available in LEDs today. There is lots of great information in this section on replacing fixtures and lamps indoors and outdoors so you have a better understanding of what to look for.

After the presentation, Lisa and Greg do a great Q&A and go over some other developments in LEDs. They went over some new applications for LEDs to help with mood, therapy and having companies such as clothing stores using the lights to simulate the lighting that would be achieved during specific events such as outdoor lighting for bathing suits or evening lighting for trying on dresses.

All in all – great video. Go check it out above.

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Topics: LED Lighting

Happy Hanukkah 2014

Posted by SEPCO

12/18/14 9:30 AM

From the Solar Electric Power Company Family to Yours...
Happy-Hanukkah-2014
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Topics: Holiday

You'll Have a Green Christmas This Year

Posted by SEPCO

12/16/14 9:30 AM

green_christmasIt’s that time of year again; time to start your Christmas shopping if you haven’t already finished it. When you begin your shopping try to keep in mind how you can help your friends and family be green and still give them gifts they will love. Christmas is one of my favorite holidays but Christmas shopping on the other hands is my least favorite. I always worry rather my gifts will be right or if the receivers will like them and how eco-friendly my gifts are.

An easy start to Christmas shopping is to shop online. This prevents using gas for transportation and not to mention less stress from the Christmas craziness at all the stores. If you would rather go to the stores and brave the chaos try your best to buy all your gifts in 1 shot if possible. Here are some quick ideas for gifts you can give this holiday season. Hopefully these will be crowd pleasers and everyone will be able to enjoy the thought of helping the earth in every way possible.

For the home there are actually fairly simple ideas you can use. If you look at any farmer’s market or in even one of those center kiosks in the mall you will probably be able to find and echo friendly candle. Candles made with soy or beeswax are always an easy find and many now have cotton wicks which release less toxins than normal candle wicks. Along with candles there are many options out there for reclaimed items. You can find many items online or if you are crafty and give yourself a little extra time Pinterest is always a good place to get inspiration. Bamboo items are easy to find and can range from spoons, cutting boards to a nice bamboo plant in a glass pot that can be reused later.  Don’t forget about that person with the green thumb in your life, they are actually fairly simple to buy eco-friendly gifts for.  A real gardener will do just about anything to keep the blooms coming, even in the off-season. Satisfy their obsession with a gorgeous wooden crate filled with ready-to-pop bulbs or a simple all in one grow kit. A great site to check out with tons of options is Bambeco.

Kids_Wrapping_PaperFor the fashionista’s in your life there are a ton of options out there. Jewelry is always a hit and you can find pretty much anything from a necklace to a watch. Everyone loves clothes and a great place to find fashions that everyone is sure to love is ModCloth. Kids can actually be one of the easier people to shop for and clothes is always a great gift to give them, plus as parents that means one less toy to add to the collection. All natural and organic health and beauty products are agreat option as well. Some people can be hard to shop for when it comes to clothes so the tried and true gift is always a gift card.

Now that we have all our gifts in order what should we do when we present the gifts to the receiver? A way to stay green with these gifts it to put them in a nice reusable bag but if you want to wrap try to find recycled gift wrap. Try to avoid glossy foil or metallic wrapping paper because it can be difficult to recycle and can’t be used for much afterword because of the metal contained to make it. A favorite thing of mine to do for grandparents it use all my kids artwork that comes home and turn it into wrapping paper, less waste that way  and a great way to share your child’s work. Homemade cards are always nice and add a more personal touch to your gifts. Use last year’s calendar by using the great pictures and sticking them together to create a beautiful collage. Last try to use tape sparingly or not at all if possible. You can do use a pretty ribbon or even a little dab of glue instead.

Celebrating a green Christmas isn't about going without; it's about being thoughtful and considerate of not creating waste at a time of celebration. Most importantly remember the season is not all about the gifts and glam but more about sharing time with our friends and family.  If we all do our part little by little we can keep the earth a greener place so we have many more holidays to spend with them.

From all of us here at SEPCO may you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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Topics: Green Ideas, Holiday

Quick Overview of Sign Lighting from Big to Small

Posted by SEPCO

12/11/14 9:30 AM

Signs provide advertising and information to travelers day and night; however, if they are not properly lit at night, miss visual impact by someone driving by. There are many ways to light up a sign at night, including the use of solar when electric is not readily available. Here are some great tips and information for different types of sign lights from big to small.

 

Large Billboard Salt River Devco

 

Large billboard lights require quite a bit of lighting to see easily at night. Billboards are typically used for advertising along highways of local businesses and can generate great traffic for these businesses from travelers. Making sure they are properly illuminated during the night time allows for your message not to be missed. A typical billboard needs around one bright fixture every 10 feet to allow for proper illumination levels and to make sure none of the message gets left in the dark.  These can easily be solar powered as the solar panels can be mounted on top of the billboard to charge the batteries during the day and then power the lights at night. Best of all, there is almost never any shading concerns on a billboard. Since billboards are typically installed in the middle of nowhere and have no ability to install typical electrical grid lines, solar is a great option for these large signs.

 

Large Monument Sign Moraine Valley Community College

 

Large monument signs for communities, offices, businesses, etc. can also require multiple fixtures to properly illuminate the sign. These styles of sign lighting systems have fixtures mounted near to the ground angled upwards towards the sign face. These signs can be located along the side of a roadway or in a median. You can either decide to light up just the logo and information on the sign, or the entire sign along with surrounding landscaping. Solar can easily adapt to these signs as well since there is not always power located where the sign is installed, especially in a median, and the trenching involved with bringing in standard electrical power is costly and tears up the surrounding areas.

 

Small Sign Savannah HOA

 

Small signs typically use a single flood fixture and require much less lighting than larger signs. These too have ground mounted lighting; however, the light fixtures can also be mounted from the top of the sign. These too can easily be powered by solar power systems and typically require small solar power systems. For extra impact, additional fixtures can be used to light up the surrounding landscape to really light up the sign area.

 

Internally Illuminated Sign Denver Children Advocacy

 

The final topic to discuss is internally illuminated signs. These are typically either on a building face or stand alone along a roadway. Internally illuminated signs mostly used long fluorescent tube lights; however, there is a huge transition to LED strips to new signs as well as upgrades to older sign boxes. There are many options available with LED lights that can be installed within a sign box and can be as comparable to sizing in regards to the required lighting as a standard flood system to requiring much more power than an externally illuminated sign.

 

Speak with your sign company when deciding what type of sign you are having designed and the options available when it comes to lighting. Knowing the lighting requirements before the final sign is built will help you determine the best type of lighting and to get the most for your money. Most sign companies work with lighting companies directly and can help you determine what the best course of action is. If you are requiring a solar solution due to a lack of traditional power where the sign will be installed, contact your solar lighting designer to create the perfect solar sign lighting solution for your sign.

 

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

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