There’s Never Been a Better Time for Solar

By Dakota Potenza,

Renovus Project Manager

renovusAre you thinking renewable? Many people in our community are, whether they're motivated to stop their use of fracked gas, want to do right by the planet, or simply find solar to be a good investment. The landscape for renewable energy has never looked better. Going solar has become more economically viable than it was even five years ago. One might even say that it's a no brainer! The prices of solar products have come down while efficiency has gone up. There are an assortment of financing options to choose from, as well as tax credits and generous state incentives. The fact that solar panels, inverters, and thermal collectors come standard with 10- to 25-year warranties makes the investment even sweeter.

Renovus came to be out of necessity. Company founder, Art Weaver, wanted to put a solar system on his home near Spencer, NY. So he looked in the phone book (because that's what you did back then), and found not a single listing for solar installers! Not one to be easily dissuaded, Art set to figuring it out on his own. He ended up installing his own system, which turned out to be the first grid-tied system in NYSEG's territory. From that first system to the hundreds installed over the course of our decade in business, Renovus has come a long way — and so has the solar industry.

Over the past few years, the local demand for renewable energy systems has skyrocketed. We have experienced that growth firsthand. Renovus installed over 100 systems last year alone. Our sales increased 60 percent from 2011 to 2012 and then 40 percent again, from 2012 to 2013. This increased business has led to the growth of the company, and we have hired additional staff to bolster all levels of operation.

Designing and installing an efficient solar system requires a craftsman's approach. It starts with choosing the best products and materials available, then installing each system to optimize performance and aesthetic standards. We work with customers to fully integrate each system into their home or business, so that only perfectly squared and centered solar panels are noticeable from the road or street. This workmanship can be seen at our net-zero energy building on Cherry Street in Ithaca, where solar thermal and solar electric systems provide 100 percent of our building's energy needs.

Our quality work is also visible on rooftops and backyards throughout the region. One of these projects is a solar hot-water system that we put in at my house in Trumansburg. I have been absolutely thrilled with my system. I am lucky enough to have monitoring for my system, so I can tell how much water heating is happening from the sun vs. the back-up electric. There are times during the summer when I don't use any electricity to heat my water for weeks. What's even more impressive is that, when not covered with snow, my panels can get as hot as 160 degrees even when it's 10 degrees outside. After New York state and federal tax credits and a $3,600 incentive from NYSERDA (the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority), my system cost me $2,133.53. I used to heat my water with a propane boiler and now I'm doing it with the sun and some back-up electricity. With the savings in propane, my system will pay for itself in less than seven years.

Last year, Renovus was chosen as the solar thermal (hot water) installer for the Solarize Tompkins Southeast program. We conducted educational events, performed many site evaluations, and signed contracts for 37 systems in the towns of Danby, Dryden, and Caroline through this program. Most of these systems have been installed, and NYSERDA has been inspecting them with high marks. On Feb. 11, we received the NYSERDA award for solar thermal "Excellence in Quality." This award recognizes installers for having received consistently high-quality scores for field inspections of 25 or more solar thermal projects (in 2012/2013). We completed 44 projects, of which 61 percent were randomly inspected by NYSERDA. We earned nearly perfect scores on all of those systems — the highest in the state.

The cost of renewables has been seen as an impediment, so we've worked hard to make systems affordable. We're very excited about a new partnership with local lender Alternatives Federal Credit Union, which offers a low-interest loan specifically for renewable energy projects. At Renovus, we've restructured the project payment process to eliminate hefty up-front costs, and we've also identified more cost-competitive products that meet our quality standards. The result is that homeowners and businesses can buy affordable systems that will be productive for decades with a relatively short payback time.

This year, the average solar hot-water system for a Renovus client costs less than $4,000 and a typical solar electric system capable of meeting the average home's annual energy needs costs less than $10,000 after incentives. These historically low system costs are possible in part due to incentives provided by NYSERDA. For example, solar hot-water clients may receive about $3,600 in incentives for a two-panel system appropriate for a family of three to four people, and $4,000 for a three-panel system appropriate for a larger family. Solar electric clients are eligible for $1 per watt of system size, all the way up to systems as big as 25,000 watts. That means that for a typical 10,000-watt system, solar electric customers will receive a $10,000 incentive.

As a staple of the local renewable community for the past ten years, Renovus has grown by leaps and bounds and we're ready to embrace the future of a vigorous local solar market.

Dakota has been with Renovus for over six years and is currently a project manager and head of the service department. Stop by the Renovus office at 102 Cherry St. anytime to have a closer look at their solar systems and talk to their knowledgeable staff about your renewable energy goals, or visit Renovus's Keith Liblick will offer a class at GreenStar on Wednesday, March 5, 7 - 8:15 pm. See page 10 for more details.

  • By Sylvester Johnson, Ph.D.
    Accelerating Changes
    Consumers drive change. Growing numbers of consumers are saving money by increasing energy efficiency, and paying a reasonable premium to support the transition to sustainable energy sources. As the market for renewable energy grows, more businesses will invest in production. Larger scale production will increase efficiency and reduce costs for even greater numbers of consumers.

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