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SEPCO's blog on all things renewable and green

Finding Funds for Nonprofits Renewable Energy Projects

Posted by SEPCO

8/26/14 9:30 AM

Money_for_Non_ProfitsMany organizations do not qualify for the renewable energy tax credits since they are nonprofit. That seems unfair since there is little incentive to get these types of organizations to utilize renewable energy. This bothered me and so I did some research and here is what I found that nonprofit organizations, such as churches, HOA’s and other organizations can do to gather the funds to utilize solar energy without killing their bottom line.

Grants

There are still grants that are available and nonprofits can qualify for these. Grants can be difficult to find, but with a little research, you may be able to find one that fits your needs best. Some great information can be found on the Energy.gov, FedCenter.gov and EPA.gov website about funding and financing of renewable energy project. Also talking to your local community representative may help find what local incentives are available for renewable energy projects. If there is nothing currently available, you can work on possibly sparking an interest and getting them to consider it in the near future.

Fundraising

Fundraising is a great way to get your community involved in your renewable energy efforts. You can hold something as simple as a spaghetti dinner or bake sale that can end up generating quite a bit of funds. You can also dedicate a plaque to larger donors of the project. As long as you make your community feel involved in the process, they will be happy to step forward and take a sense of pride in the project.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding is becoming hugely popular as a way to run get funds for a project by giving different level of incentives to help gain more traction. I’m sure by now you have heard of the Potato Salad at Kickstarter to more relevant Solar Roadways at Indigogo that gained some huge traction. Once you create your campaign, sharing it with your community is the first step, but having them share it out can allow those who would like to help your cause, but may not be located nearby, become a part of your project.

Leasing

Some organizations have gone through a leasing agency who can take care of the tax credits and grants search and claiming paperwork and your organization can still benefit. Instead of paying full price, there are leasing organizations that will take an additional discount off your system and then lease it back to you over the course of a number of years. You get a lower price and can slowly pay off your system instead of needing the total amount in one lump sum.

These are just a few options to those nonprofit organizations that still want to utilize renewable energy sources and complete projects to help make their organization a little greener to gain the funds for their projects. What other options have you heard of? We’d love to be able to add more to our list and help all organizations be able to put their green foot forward.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Tax Incentives, Solar Rebates, Funding

Solar Powered Kiosk Shelters for Campuses and Parks

Posted by SEPCO

8/21/14 9:30 AM

Art-Craft-Sign-2Kiosk shelters are a great way to relay information to people visiting a campus or a park. Kiosks can show them useful information such as location maps, events, specials and advertisements. Traditional kiosks are installed all over areas typically not having access to a traditional power source. A great way to light these so the information is available after dark is by utilizing solar kiosk lighting.

With a solar kiosk light system you are able to provide lighting to the information when it is still needed after dark. This allows visitors to easily see where they are, where they may need to go, and some other useful information you may provide. And the systems are typically quite small as they would only need to run until the visitors would no longer be in the area, such as a park closing or classes are over.

Aurora Higher Education Center uses our solar lighting systems for kiosks around the campus to provide information to visitors and students, especially for night class attendants. The systems run for 6 hours after dusk to maximize efficiency and lower the overall size requirements of the system. The costs of trenching in the power to kiosk locations can be costly and AHEC was looking for a renewable aspect while also providing power to kiosk areas that had no electric nearby.

Solar powered kiosk shelters also can be placed around transit areas to help visitors to a city find their next destination and view transit routes easily. This works great for local businesses that would like to attract visitors to their establishment. The kiosk can also serve as a shelter when the weather isn’t favorable. Larger solar powered systems can even provide mobile device charging stations.

Have a kiosk that requires lighting and no power available? Contact us for a free project analysis and see what SEPCO’s solar lighting systems can do for you.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Kiosk Lighting

How To Clean and Maintain Your Solar Light or Power System

Posted by SEPCO

8/19/14 9:30 AM

Solar Light Cleaning and Maintaining

Since there are no moving parts to a solar lighting or solar power system, maintenance is quite easy and doesn’t need to be performed often. Even if your system is at a slope and it rains often where you live, buildup of dirt and debris can still accumulate on the solar panels. There are a few things to do once a year to ensure the system runs at peak performance year after year.

Clean the Solar Panels

Cleaning the solar panels on any system is quite easy and does not take much time. Creating a solution of soap and water, using a soft brush and squeegee will get your solar panels back to their installed luster. You need to do this early in the day, before they start to really heat up from the sun. This is similar to washing your car, and with the steps below, you will be done in no time.

  1. Hose off the panels to wet them down and wash off any loose dirt and dust.
  2. Take your soft bristle brush and soapy water and scrub down the panels. Take mind to any hard to get off spots by gently using your finger or allowing the soap to soak for a minute or two and try again.
  3. Rinse the panels off thoroughly making sure to leave no soapy residue.
  4. Use the squeegee to remove all water to leave no water spots when it dries.

Other Maintenance

While you are there working on cleaning the panels, this is a great time to check all connections for any problems such as chewed wires or conduit, inspect the light fixture (if there is one) for any problems from weather, vandalism or wildlife, and make any replacement or repairs as needed. This is also a great time to replace the batteries if it has been between five and seven years.

That is all there is to cleaning and maintaining your solar light or power system. If you discover any issues, you can contact the manufacturer to troubleshoot the system further or purchase replacement parts. You can also check out our quick and easy troubleshooting guide for more information on any issues you may come across.
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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Power

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: What about Repair?

Posted by SEPCO

8/14/14 9:30 AM

Repair

I know since I was a little kid that we have been learning about the 3 R’s of living a more green life; Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Something that seems to have fallen into the shadows many years ago is Repair. Instead of getting rid of that broken item, repair it to allow it to continue to be useful. A lot of things you can repair at home, others may have to be taken into a shop or have a technician look at it, but in almost all cases, the item can be repaired.

I came across this great article, The Forgotten ‘R’: Repair by Elizabeth Royte a while back and it got me thinking. How much stuff do I myself, a green professional and person, get rid of over the year that is broken but can actually be easily repaired? Now, instead of just throwing out that carpet shampooer that won’t do what it needs to, or the drawer of the fridge that is cracked, it is time to get out the tools and fix this stuff. If I can’t do it, I’m sure there is a repair shop somewhere in my town that can fix things.

One thing noticed in the article is the disappearance of repair shops. Manufacturers are making products that they want you to throw away once they break so that you purchase new products. There is something really wrong with this mentality. We have become a wasteful society, and with the increase of global warming and waste being a huge contributor to this, we should be looking for ways to reduce our impact by repairing items. Now, repair shops are starting again, popping up all over.

What to do with that item that just isn’t repairable, where no amount of glue, wiring, screws, etc. will ever make it perform the way it was intended again? We recently looked into Upcycling where you take unusable items and turn them into something new and amazing. If that item really can’t be repaired, look at it from a different angle and see what it may be able to become and breathe some new life into it. Save the unused tiles from a project and create a new top for that scratched up table that you don’t know what to do with. Go online; there are thousands of ideas all over the internet. Don’t know what to do with that broken item and don’t have the time to turn it into something new, advertise it on Craigslist or Freecycle and let someone else take a crack at it.

The takeaway: Let’s all work together to expand the iconic 3 R’s and add a forth by repairing items that break. 

photo credit: Daniel Y. Go
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Topics: Green Ideas, Fun Green Articles

Tips and Trick for Solar Outdoor Lighting Troubleshooting

Posted by SEPCO

8/12/14 9:30 AM

Solar_Outdoor_Lighting_Troubleshooting

Solar outdoor lighting is a great way to showcase your green initiative and provide great lighting in all types of areas, but what do you do when they malfunction and don’t come on when expected? There are a few tips and tricks to troubleshooting solar lights that help you determine what the issue is. Here are a few of the most common issues that work for both commercial and residential solar light systems and how you can determine what the issue may be.

1. Are they coming on, but turning off before they are supposed to?

Sometimes your lights just don’t last as long as they once did and this is typically caused by batteries dying. With commercial solar lights, the batteries should last five to seven years if properly sized for the application. If it is coming up to that point, it is time to contact the manufacturer and get replacement batteries. Small home solar lights have batteries as well; however, these typically last a much shorter time and can easily be replaced by purchasing rechargeable batteries from your local store. Remember, batteries only have so many cycles before they just go bad and need replacing.

Another issue could be the solar panel is dirty and not producing the required power to charge the batteries fully. This is a simple fix and one of the easiest things to check. Look at the solar panel and see if it is dirty, then follow steps on cleaning the solar panel and see if that helps the system function properly. This doesn’t need to happen often, especially if your panels are at an angle and it rains often enough to keep dusk and grime from building up on the panels.

Finally, are the panels shaded by something that has grown in the way? Trees and surrounding landscaping grows over time and can cause shading on the panels, not allowing them to charge the batteries fully. Make sure there is nothing taller than the panels near the south of the system’s installation. Solar panels need direct sunlight all day and even the smallest amount of shade changes the output of the solar panels.

2. Are the lights not coming on at all?

This could be one of two issues if the lights worked at one point; the battery as above, the lamp or a blown fuse. If the battery is what you think is the problem, replace them. If it isn’t the battery, it is more than likely the lamp. A lamp only has a certain life span and they need to be changed out every so often, just like a light bulb in your home. There are exceptions to this rule such as LED technology. Most LEDs last 15+ years; however, if you are using CFL, HPS, LPS or metal halide, they can die much sooner. Determine what type of lamp is operated by your solar lighting system and figure out if it is time to replace the lamp or not. One suggestion we would give is if it is time to change out your lamps, look into utilizing a LED fixture. Not only will they last longer, they will give you more light for the same power draw, a complete win-win.

The last thing that could be going wrong seems like the simplest thing, but it can render your system completely dead. A blown fuse will terminate all power from flowing through your system and not allow the light to come on at all; however, it is a simple replacement with a new fuse the proper size and your system will be up and running immediately. All SEPCO systems come with an extra fuse in the battery box just in case of this situation.

Now that you know the basics to troubleshooting your solar lights, you should easily be able to figure out what is wrong and how to fix it. Need additional troubleshooting help? Contact your manufacturer for additional support.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Installation, Troubleshooting

Achieving NET Zero with Off Grid vs Grid Tied Solar Lighting

Posted by SEPCO

8/7/14 9:30 AM

Companies today are looking for ways to improve their energy efficiency, lower their costs and increase their sustainable practices into their business model. One of the most effective ways for a company to complete all three tasks is to look for NET Zero solutions. NET Zero is when a business or home uses the equal amount of power that it produces on a yearly basis. There are times where a building may use more than it produces at one point of the year; however, it averages out when the building produces more energy than it uses.

Lighting is a huge part of the energy usage of a business; however, there are options to help achieve NET Zero when looking at exterior lighting utilizing solar lights. There are two main types of solar lighting systems that can help achieve a NET Zero application. The first is off grid solar lighting systems that utilize no power from the grid. The second is grid tied solar lights that feed the grid during the day and use the power from the grid at night.

Off Grid Solar Lighting

Off Grid Solar Lighting

With off grid solar lighting, the solar panel is sized to charge a battery bank during the day that is large enough to feed the lights all night. The solar power system is determined by the light fixture Amps, amount of sun in the worst case scenario (typically winter), the run time required and the amount of battery backup that is required for that area, a minimum of five days autonomy is typical in a good system. These systems do not rely on the grid power and are completely NET Zero from installation.

In areas with little sun in the winter, there are restrictions to what wattage lamp can be used. High powered LEDs will require much larger solar arrays and battery banks in the northern areas, making the systems costly for initial purchase. This can be reduced by reducing the run time of the system (say only till 2 hours after the business closes and then on again an hour or so before the business reopens). Working with a solar lighting professional or a lighting designing company can help you find the best solution to fit in your budget and provide the necessary lighting requirements for your application.

Grid Tied Solar Lighting

Grid Tied Solar Lighting

With grid tied solar lighting, the solar panel is sized to the average sun hours and does not include a battery bank. The solar feeds the grid during the day and the grid runs the light fixture at night. There are still sizing constraints with this type of system to achieve NET Zero. The solar panel needs to be sized to provide enough power that it equals the usage of the lamp. A large 250 Watt Metal Halide lamp will require a much larger solar power system than a 90 Watt Equivalent LED fixture. LED switch outs are recommended in grid tied solar lighting applications.

These systems are much less costly than off grid solar lighting systems and have a quick ROI, but are not a good option in areas that do not have grid power already installed or easy access to grid power. If there is not electric currently at the site, off grid solar light systems are the better solution since there will be no trenching of the area (especially roadways and parking lots) and the expensive drop down and cables required to run the electric to the area.

Each option has its benefits to help a business achieve NET Zero certification on their new or updated facilities. Working with a solar lighting company that understands your needs will ensure that you have a system designed to specifications and will provide a great ROI and long life. 

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Solar Lighting Design, Grid Tied Solar Lighting, Off Grid Solar Lighting

Solar LED Road Lights Provide Great Lighting to All Types of Roadways

Posted by SEPCO

8/5/14 9:30 AM

Solar_LED_Road_LightsRoadways are our connection to everything and everyone. They can take us from the east coast to the west coast and anywhere in between. Raphaël Renaud said “Roads and streets, the central nervous system of complete urbanization”. But if you’ve ever driven late at night, you know how difficult it can be to drive on dark roads.

This is where solar road lights can come in to save the day. These types of lighting systems can be installed in any location.

Don’t mistake me for talking about the solar roadways. As this is a great idea and can completely change how our roadway are completed, how they respond to our world, and all the many benefits that comes along, this is not what I am referring to. I am talking about the solar LED road lights that provide overhead lighting on the ground below as travelers drive down the road.

Benefits of solar LED road lights include:

  • Reduction in night accidents
  • Aid security and police protection
  • Improve the flow of traffic
  • Promote business and use of public facilities at night

Local roadways do not have the same lighting requirements as large highways; however, still need to provide adequate lighting for safety to vehicles and pedestrians. Roadways are also implementing bike lanes to cater to the increase of bike usage and sidewalks for pedestrians. This requires an increase in the need for lighting for additional safety concerns of not just cars on the roadways anymore.

LED_Solar_Road_Lights

Since electrical infrastructure was not always put in place when a road was installed, solar powered road lights provide the necessary lighting without having to dig up the roads or damaging the surrounding area. These self-contained light systems are perfect for older roads as well as new road installations and cut down on installation, unsightly overhead wiring and provide immediate payback since the power is 100% free for the life of the system.

Finally, with the popularity of LED fixtures, you are not stuck with the same old Cobrahead roadway fixtures. You can utilize architectural fixtures on roadways that can produce the same lighting levels as the old style light fixtures and fit within the design of the area.

With the expansion of lighting styles and the combination of green solar power, solar LED road lights are a great way to use green power and provide lighting to just about any roadway.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Street Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Amazing Changes Happening Now for Sustainable Living: Renewable Energy

Posted by SEPCO

7/31/14 9:30 AM

Renewable-Energy

Renewable energy has been booming, especially in the last couple years. Renewable energy resources have been around for a long time; however, their popularity has increased with the ongoing movement towards trying to slow down global warming. There are many forms of renewable energy that have been used, developed and installed even as I write this. Here are the largest forms of renewable energy and a little bit about their usage today.

Solar Energy

We are a solar company so of course solar is our favorite. Solar panels provide energy during the day, from practically sun up to sun down. There is so much solar energy to be harvested, that like many statistics and memes say, so much solar energy hits the earth that if we could power the needs of the world for 25 years or more in a single day of sun. The only problem with that is creating enough solar panels to harvest all that energy and then storing the power so it can be accessed after the sun goes down; however, there are people working on energy storage as we speak. Solar energy can also be used for other applications such as water heating or heating a building / home.

Wind Energy

Wind energy can provide a ton of energy day and night as long as the wind is moving. Today’s wind power is generated by a windmill turning a turbine that generates power to feed electricity to power lines; however, wind power has been used in the past for grinding grain and pumping water. Wind farms can be installed in a large open area or offshore and provide a lot of power to nearby areas. Storage of this power is still being developed, just like solar power; however, seems to be a more popular approach to large scale power generation. New developments in wind power are being made to harness wind power when there is little wind and windmills that protect wildlife from harm.

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal power extracts steam from underground and uses that to power turbines to generate power. The water is extracted during this process and fed back under the Earth’s surface to generate more steam. The main drawback to this form of power generation is the steam can carry a mixture of gases that contribute to global warming, bad smells and acid rain. These gases need to be contained and not put into the atmosphere.

Hydropower & Tidal Energy

Both hydropower and tidal energy uses the natural flow of water to turn turbines to generate power. Dams have been set up on rivers and underwater windmill looking devices have been setup on shores to harness this power. Since tides are more predictable than the winds or sun, tidal power is growing in popularity as a great way to harness power; however, there is still controversy in changing the natural flow of water and disturbing natural habitats.

Every form of renewable energy has its pros and cons; however, by combining forces and utilizing each form to its capacity, we will one day be able to move towards a more sustainable world. Here in sunny south Florida, solar will always be my favorite source of energy. What is your favorite and why?
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Topics: Green Ideas, Alternative Energy, Renewable Energy

Solar Bollard Lighting for Parks and Pathways

Posted by SEPCO

7/29/14 9:30 AM

Bollards are used as along pathways and around parks to provide perimeter markings. They can range from concrete or steel posts to intricate decorative posts, all typically standing between 3’ and 5’ tall. Lighted bollards can provide additional features such as lighting the area at night to provide added visibility to pedestrians while marking the boundary of an area from a distance.

Solar powered bollard lights provide a green alternative and allow for lighted bollards to be placed in areas without disturbing the surrounding landscape. As the power is self-contained within a solar power system, these bollards can be placed just about anywhere. With separated solar power systems, the bollards can even be placed in shaded areas with the solar located nearby out in the sun. This allows for additional installation options than solar bollard lights that only have the solar panel installed on the top of the bollard.

Solar_Bollard_Lighting

There are a couple options to look for with solar bollard lighting. The first is with the light output. Reflectors are used to provide 360 degree lighting; however, shields allow for the light to be directed in a specific area. Second option is style of bollards as they come in either of those round or square shapes, a range of colors to fit in with current architectural requirements and the tops of the bollards can be customized with many different styles. Finally, is even pathway lighting required or just spot lighting for marking the area? If even lighting is required along a pathway, there will be a need to place the bollards closer together; however, most bollards can be placed about 15’ apart and provide a decent amount of light on the ground.

No matter what option you choose, utilizing solar bollard lighting can provide the needed lighting with no impact on the environment or the landscaping nearby. Solar provides a renewable source of energy to power the bollards and allows the area to be lit for safety of people in the area.
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Topics: Solar Lighting, Landscape Lighting, Pathway Lighting, Bollard Lighting

6 Questions to Ask Before Going Solar

Posted by SEPCO

7/24/14 9:30 AM

Before_Going_SolarAs with any investment, purchasing solar panels for your home is a decision that shouldn't be made lightly. You will need to consider many factors and avoid the numerous pitfalls. By hiring the right company and asking the right questions, you'll be able to benefit greatly from solar panels.

It is important to decide if having solar panels installed on your house is the right decision for your situation wants and needs. Solar panels offer many impressive benefits, but there are other factors to consider. We take a look at what questions you should ask before you make the switch, and the pitfalls to avoid.

1. Is the company and brand of solar panels you’re considering reputable?

You should ask the companies if they use a reputable brand of solar panels. If you can't find much information about the brand or manufacturer, then you shouldn't use those particular types of solar panels. The solar company you go through should have fully trained employees, with skilled technicians and installers to help you with the process.

Don’t be afraid to ask how long the company has been in the business. An established company that has served many customers with a portfolio of work and testimonials tends to be a company that you’re able to trust and relay on. Years of satisfied customers means good work and a reputable company will be more than willing to show off their good work and previous clientele.

In the solar business, there are unfortunately many people trying to sell cheaply made solar panels and rip customers off. Opting for a cheaper solution or a company that doesn’t appear reputable will only lead to inexperienced installer doing the job for you, additional and costly repairs, and a service that won’t follow up on you and the product after it’s installed.

By concentrating on quality above anything else and working with the right company, you’ll be able to determine whether solar panels is a good investment for your home and avoid costly mistakes.

2. Should you lease or buy solar panels?

Depending on your goals, there difference between purchasing your own solar panels and leasing can vary dramatically. Because every homeowner has different goals, the “right” payment option for each person can change.

Whilst the initial cost of purchasing solar panels yourself can be expensive, most homeowners prefer to do so. The ongoing savings on power bills solar panels offer ensure the initial expensive of them are paid off in 10 years, depending on the home. Cash rebates can also reduce the cost of the system by 10%-50% and with government incentives in place, tends to be the better option for most people.

For those that choose to lease solar panels, the long-term financial benefits will be less than those of purchasing. The advantage though is that the upfront costs are lower and any maintenance or repairs become responsibility of the leasing company, not you. Lease terms are generally for 20 years but some can range from 10-20. To find out what option is best for you, it’s best to speak with the solar power company about your specific situation.

3. Does the cost outweigh the benefits?

There is no point in investing in something that doesn’t serve you and so weighing up the cost and benefits is crucial. For homeowners that haven’t yet experienced the benefits of solar power firsthand, making the switch can be fairly daunting with the costs involved.

On the brightside though, (pun intended) the savings through solar power are significant – not to mention the environmental impact it has too. Over the last few years, everyone has fallen victim to the ongoing utility costs on the rise and we’re all looking for ways to cut down on how much we spend. Installing solar powers and taking advantage of the sun’s energy is one of the best ways to do this.

Government incentives and tax breaks sweeten the deal for homeowners wanting solar a little more, the system and panels add value to your home and the sustainable energy is a growing and beneficial industry. Whilst the initial cost can seem like disadvantage, solar power systems are one investment that will pay off and give years of enjoyment. Always ask your solar company to go through the individual costs with you. You can bring a copy of the last few utility bills too to determine if the cost will really outweigh the benefits in your home.

4. What is the type of panel mounting system that’ll be used?

Understanding the type of panel mounting system for your home, and the materials it’s made of will ensure you’re getting a durable system. Look for mounting systems that are made from either stainless steel or aluminium.

When solar panels are installed, the mounting system is what balances everything and holds it into place. Check with the company whether roof mounts, ground mounts or pole mounts would be best for your home and how this can impact on the system quality and price. The most common style of system mounting is on the roof and this is held together by metal brackets between the solar panels and roof to ensure the panels do not overheat.

5. Will you be able to produce enough power in your location?

The biggest advantage of solar power is that it relies on the sun for its power source, making it absolutely free. But, this would be pretty useless if your sun gets little to no sun right? Cloudy days can be an issue and locations that suffer all year round winters can be very indecisive about making the switch.

To accommodate for lack of sun, a large number of solar powers can be needed to produce greater amounts of electricity. This can require more roof space and money so it’s best to check with your company if this will affect you.  If you’re unsure, ask a reputable solar power company. Most companies will come to your home and conduct a site examination, including shade analysis which helps to determine whether solar is the best solution for you.

6. How long will the solar panels last for?

No homeowner wants to fork out money for an investment that won’t last the distance. This is why choosing a company that is reputable and trustworthy, and that uses quality a product is of the upmost importance. 

The lifespan of solar panels depends on several factors including the quality of the materials, and the specific manufacturer. Look for products that come with a long warranty, and this shows the manufactures commit and belief in the product. Companies that offer only a few years warranty on their products is best to stay away from, you should be looking at least 10 years.  A durable and reliable solar panel inverter and mounting system will last the distance.

Author Bio: This article is written by Aidan Jenkins , Managing Director of Infinite Energy, Australia’s market leader in quality solar power systems. 

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Topics: Guest Post, Green Ideas, Solar Power, Clean Energy, Off Grid Solar PV

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