Tag Archives: Astrum Solar

Green Task Force Says: Go Solar

The Westport Green Task Force is (surprise!) a big fan of solar energy. Today, the organization responds to a recent “06880” post on the drawbacks of that power source — first by highlighting an upcoming event, then by offering some thoughts on the benefits of solar.

A”Solar Open House” is set for today (Saturday, June 21, 1-3 p.m., 10 Stone Drive, near Clinton Avenue). Anyone interested in learning more about solar is invited.

The Westport Green Task force is also promoting a Group Solar Purchase until June 30, as part of the Thermal Imaging and Energy Efficiency Program.  Westport was one of 5 state towns chosen to participate in this effort, by the CT Clean Energy Financing and Investment Authority. Astrum Solar was chosen to be the vendor for the solar photovoltaic portion of the program. It offers some of the best quality equipment, pricing, warranties and production guarantees.

The program ends soon. So right about now homeowners who are on the fence are asking important questions. The most frequent is: “Is solar a good investment for me?”

This Westport home was retrofitted with a 5 kW solar system using 225 watt solar panels. It won an award -- but is it cost-efficient? (Photo courtesy of SunPower)

This Westport home was retrofitted with a 5 kW solar system using 225 watt solar panels. It won an award — but is it cost-efficient? (Photo courtesy of SunPower)

Before we discuss the cost of the system, let’s acknowledge that solar PV has remarkably predictable returns (electricity generated that decreases your overall electricity bill). There is minimal risk, as Astrum Solar guarantees 95% of the predicted electricity output. Perhaps Astrum Solar can offer this guarantee because it is installing microinverters (which convert DC to AC current) with every solar panel, which helps the system work more efficiently, even in shady conditions. All the equipment is warrantied for 25 years, including the microinverters.

What about the cost of a solar system? Conventional wisdom says the cost of panels will decline over time. But the state rebates that have made solar so appealing up to now have also declined, and are predicted to continue doing so. In addition, the federal tax incentive of 30% is scheduled to expire on December 31, 2016. So now  is the best time to go solar.

As for return on investment, it tends to be 6-9 years for a residential system with an internal rate of return of 9-12%. If you are concerned about financial liquidity there is a lease option, with no upfront cost. You can go solar for no money out of pocket, and save 10% to 20% a month on your electricity bill.

Furthermore, if you produce your own electricity you are protected against utility rate increases. CL&P is scheduled to increase prices by over 8% on July 1. CT is also gearing up to convert most of its power plants to natural gas. It is predicted that electricity prices will increase as demand for natural gas (and the money to build the infrastructure to manage the natural gas) outweighs supply.

Solar PV power can be the way to go.

Solar PV power can be the way to go.

You most probably won’t need to replace the solar panels in your lifetime. Some panels installed in the 1960s are still working, and while output does decline slightly each year, panels are still working at 85% of their original efficiency after 20 years. As for resale value, recent research has shown that homes with solar panels sell for more.

Don’t forget the environmental benefits of decreasing carbon dioxide output by not using carbon fuels to generate your electricity. Chances are, if you are a prospective solar PV client, you have already considered this.

WeGreenWestportBut nothing is perfect, and it is true that when the electricity goes out, the solar panels that are connected to the grid stop working (unless you opt for a battery back-up system, which is costly and has environmental issues: most batteries consist in part of toxic chemicals and must be replaced regularly). The good news is that if your solar panels make more electricity than you need, your electric meter runs backwards, decreasing your electricity bill the next month!

While solar PV is not for every home — especially in Westport, where there are so many shade-causing trees — plenty of homes are well situated. Contact Astrum Solar (800-903-6130) as soon as possible if you have any interest in this program. Contracts must be signed by June 30; the process, including a site visit,  can take time.

Putting The Heat On Westport Homes

What good is owning a home if you can’t compare it to your neighbors’?

Number of rooms. Height of the roof. Size of the backyard swing set. If we can measure it, we can win it.

Well, here’s a new metric: thermal imaging.

Starting today — thanks to a partnership between Sagewell and the Westport Green Task Force — you can find out how much heat is leaking from your house, compared to others like it.

If you live in a super-energy-efficient house — damn, no one will know.

But if yours does a better job heating the great outdoors than you — you can do something about it. Like, fix it.

The right side of the house above has had work done to prevent energy loss. The left side shows where it all goes.

The right side of the house above has had work done to prevent energy loss. The left side shows where it all goes.

Sagewell — a 5-year-old company that designs energy efficiency programs — has already worked with 40 towns in their home state of Massachusetts. Now they’re expanding to Connecticut.

A dozen communities applied for Sagewell’s initial program. Four — including Westport — were accepted.

“We have a very environmentally conscious community,” Green Task Force chair David Mann says. “It’s well organized, and people are active.”

That attracted Sagewell, says CEO Pasi Miettinen.

His program uses Google Maps-type vehicles. Driving through town on cold winter nights, they collect heat-loss data via thermal imaging.

When a homeowner requests a report, the data on that house is prepared.

A typical Sagewell report.

A typical Sagewell report. The right side describes heat loss via insulation, windows and doors.

Sagewell mapped Westport last month (and it was cold). They got about 90 percent of all houses. Those obscured by hedges or fences, more than 70 feet from the road, and condos were not mapped.

Once you see how much heat roars through your walls, you can request an in-home assessment, and consultations (including insulation, upgrading heating or air conditioning systems, new windows and solar options) from Sagewell partners. Sagewell offers email and phone help throughout the process.

The next step is taking advantage of energy efficiency measures. Some are state-subsidized, like a Home Energy Solutions visit that offers various options, rebates, incentives and financing. (Free energy efficiency measures are offered on an income-eligible basis.) Sagewell offers lists of local contractors, too.

Another option: Astrum Solar will provide solar photovoltaic for Westporters, at a discounted price. (Contracts must be signed by May 1.)

Thermal imaging is free to customers. Sagewell — a for-profit company — earns fees for referrals, and through marketing agreements.

Miggs Burroughs designed the very clever front of this informational postcard. Look for it in your mail soon.

Miggs Burroughs designed the very clever front of this informational postcard. Look for it in your mail soon.

In Belmont, Massachusetts, more than 20% of all eligible homeowners took advantage of Sagewell’s thermal imaging. (One resident who apparently passed: Mitt Romney.)

Cheshire — one of the other 3 Connecticut towns involved — has already seen over 200 homeowners participate.

Mann notes that in the past 3 years approximately 15 percent of Westport homes have been weatherized, thanks to CL&P’s Home Energy Challenge. But, he says, much more can be done.

Thermal imaging is not sexy — or visible. However, it can be very cost-efficient. And with the money you save on energy, you can build a higher fence. Add another bay to your garage. Construct an addition to your child’s treehouse.

You know — the things everyone can see.

(To participate in the program, or for more information, click here or call 203-349-3019. An informational workshop is set for Thursday, February 27, 6:30 p.m. at Earthplace.)