EcoLogical Energy Systems was a spotlightstory in the special edition U.S. Builder Review Magazine that was featured at the Greenbuild International Conference & Expo taking placve this week in Washington D.C. The conference, hosted by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is attended annually by over 20,000 green building professionals.
Check out the story of our company here - http://www.usbuildersreview.com/case-studies/ecological-energy-systems-llc-connecting-communities-through-solar-and-wind-power
In our previous Energy Saving Tips we discussed air sealing those pesky thermal bypasses – cracks and holes about the home that occur over time from settling or were never sealed up in initial construction from plumbing, ductwork, pipes, etc. allowing air to come and go easily, thus requiring your heating and cooling systems to work harder to bring you your desired comfort level on your thermostat - costing you more money!
We’re going to keep on that same theme, but take a look particularly at the ductwork of your heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). Your ductwork is an integral part of your building systems that brings a supply of conditioned air, either heated or cooled, into your home and returns the air that the conditioned air is replacing outside.
Your ductwork starts from your heating and cooling system’s air handler – the big metal rectangular piece of equipment usually in a basement, crawlspace or attic. Sometimes it can be located in a utility closet on a living floor. When the air handlers are installed in an attic or crawlspace, the ductwork has to travel far distances in unconditioned spaces until they reach the inside of the home it is trying to bring a supply of air to.
During the summer in our area, attics are very hot and crawlspaces have higher than usual moisture levels. While in the winter, both attics and crawlspaces are very cold. That means your heating and cooling system is producing cool air in the summer, which has to travel through either hot air in the attic, or moist air in the crawlspace; and it produces warm air in the winter, which has to travel through cold air both in the attic or crawlspace.
This means we need to make sure our ductwork is sealed air tight so we don’t lose the warm air in the winter or gain the hot air in the summer through infiltration. We also want to make sure we insulate the ductwork so we can reduce the impact of heat transfer. All this causes your heating and cooling system to have to work harder to achieve the desired temperature setting in your home!
Common findings in a residential energy audit on a home that has its ductwork in the attic or crawlspace are that there is high potential for ductwork to not be fully sealed, particularly at the joists and the ever dreadful, “panned return” where the HVAC contractor used the wood floor joists and floor board for three sides of the ductwork, this is extremely inefficient as conditioned air leaks through a multitude of areas. And duct tape is not the solution! It expands and contracts and falls off quickly!
So, what we recommend is air sealing the ductwork around the joists, panned returns and other nuances that you see allowing infiltration of your ductwork system. Duct Mastic is a wonderful product that is water soluble and you can apply the putty like material with a paint brush – USE GLOVES! – it can be messy. You can find a half gallon of duct mastic at your local building supply store for around $10 and it will go a long way. Identify the areas that need to be addressed and apply! Wait for it to set for about a day and then you can move onto installing duct insulation!
There are many forms of duct insulation out there to accommodate the many different shapes ductwork can be. The main thing we want to focus on is achieving a good R-Value. The R-Value is the “Resistance” of heat transfer the insulation provides. For ductwork, we would like to achieve at least an R-Value of R-7. It’s easy to ask your local building supply where you can locate in their store and they can suggest what are the best options for your particular duck system!
Leading up to and during the winter, EcoLogical Energy Systems is going to offer free energy saving tips!
We are strong believers in the, "Efficiency First" mantra that really took off during the America Recovery & Reinvestment Act stimulus package that concentrated heavily on fostering the energy efficiency industry.
Something that we at EES tell our clients when we first meet with them is that if they can lower the loads being consumed by their home, business, church or school, that the size of the renewable energy system they will need will also greatly decrease along with their power bills!
We do stress that the number one step to take in determining the energy efficiency measures your home or business needs is an comprehensive energy audit. There are certified energy auditors in the area that use diagnostic equipment, like a blower door tester, duct blaster tester and thermal imaging camera to name a few. Information is gathered about the site to determine air leakage, insulation levels, appliance and mechanical equipment efficiency and other energy, health and safety related items. A report is provided with the findings of the audit and recommended measures, usually with the low-hanging fruit recommended first.
Today, we are going to talk about air leakage and how to seal it up!
Your home or building will always have the same volume of air inside it. With a blower door tester, an energy auditor is able to record the Air Changes Per Hour (ACH). The ACH of an energy efficient home will be one or fewer ACH and older, leakier homes can have ACH over 15. This would mean that all the air in the building is completely cycled out more than 15 times in an hour with the blower door fan operating.
So, to get your air changes per hour down, we start with doing some air sealing of what the industry calls; thermal bypasses. Thermal bypasses include things like;
- a 2 inch hole cut for 1 1/2 inch plumbing in your floor that leads down to the crawlspace
- an 8 inch square cut for 6 inch duct work that goes through to the attic
- a 3 inch hole cut for a 2 inch radon pipe that goes from the crawlspace all thte way through the roof
- area cut for electrical service or heat pump equipment that was never sealed
- top plate not sealed around wall perimter of home or business in attic
- sill (bottom) plate not sealed around band joist of home or business in basement or crawlspace
These might sound small, but by the time you add all these up, along with areas around window frames and door jambs that have separated as the building ages, and you could possibly be living with a small or medium sized window open all the time, 24/7 all year round.
This means that in the winter, when you are setting your thermostat to a desired heated temperature, that warm air your heating system is working hard (and consuming lots of energy to do so!) is being pushed up through the thermal bypasses into the attic and outside, while being replaced by the thermal bypasses coming up through your crawlspace and/or main floor with cold air that your heating system continually has to work on to keep warming up the new air! Lot's of $$$ going out the door!
What we need to do is seal up those cracks and other spaces. Use cans of spray foam insulation, usually under $4.00 a can, for areas 1/2 inch or greater and use caulking for smaller areas, especially around window seal and door frame craks where the framing is starting to separate from the walls. This is something that just happens over time. You want to seal these areas up as air gets in round these cracks and into the walls. When your walls are cold or hot, they have a negative impact on the thermal comfort of your home and make your heating and cooling system work harder to get to the desired temperature set at the thermostat.
Be sure to use fire retardant spray foam and caulking around areas that can get hot like flue pipes and electrical fixtures.
Here's a classic image of thermal bypasses hard at work that help folks understand what is happening. Do keep in mind, you can make your home too tight! If you've got everything sealed up extra tight (an energy auditor can perform a home ventilation calculation for you), you might need mechanical ventilation!
Utility-Scale Solar Reaches Cost Parity With Natural Gas Throughout America
Low prices are not limited to California and the Southwest—they’re everywhere.
By, Katherine Tweed
The cost of installing utility-scale solar has fallen considerably in recent years, from more than $6 per watt in 2009 to about $3 per watt in 2014. That has resulted in a boom in the sector, which is 31 times bigger than it was a decade ago.
Power-purchase agreement (PPA) prices are also continuing their downward trend, according to the third annual report on utility-scale solar from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
With the rush to get projects done before the cut to the federal Investment Tax Credit, levelized PPA prices have come down as low as $40 per megawatt-hour in the Southwest. At that price, PV compares to just the fuel costs for natural-gas plants. These numbers match what GTM Research has found as well.
Although the Southwest has the lowest prices, $50 to $75 per megawatt-hour is the new norm across the country, according to GTM Research. Boulder’s PPA with SunPower, for example, came in at $46 per megawatt-hour and Austin Energy’s most recent solar project came in at under $50 per megawatt-hour.
Falling prices have also opened up some markets to avoided-cost contracts, where solar is cheaper than a utility’s avoided costs to generate electricity elsewhere. In states like Utah and North Carolina, avoided-cost contracts are bringing in various solar contracts.
“This recent onslaught of applications for avoided-cost contracts has prompted the utilities involved and their state utility regulators to re-evaluate these contracts and the utilities’ PURPA requirements," reads the Berkeley lab study.
The rush to build utility-scale solar projects (defined as larger than 5 megawatts by Berkeley Lab) ahead of the ITC cliff is intense. Going into 2015, there were more than 44 gigawatts of capacity in the production queue.
“Even if only a modest fraction of the solar capacity in these queues meets that deadline, it will still mean an unprecedented amount of new construction in 2015 and 2016,” the study authors wrote. By the end of last year, there were about 8 gigawatts of utility-scale capacity in total.
For concentrated solar power, however, the era of new project construction may be over. Although the data set is small for CSP (six projects), “CSP prices do not seem to have declined over time to any notable extent, in stark contrast to the median PV prices included in the figure,” the Berkeley Lab report states. Also, while operations and maintenance costs for solar PV plants have generally declined, the one CSP plant in the study’s sample had rising O&M costs.
In the booming market of utility-scale solar PV, California and the Southwest still reign. They will account for about 60 percent of the scheduled capacity additions at the end of 2014, down from 80 percent at the end of 2013. Not all of this will be built, however, and GTM Research has projected about 27 gigawatts through 2016.
Even with a nearly 80 percent decrease in installations from 2016 to 2017, “the post-2016 outlook is not as bleak as we once thought,” said Colin Smith, solar market analyst with GTM Research.
“With the loss of the ITC, we expect to see a rise in PPA prices. But as the installation cost of utility PV continues to fall, we expect to see PPA prices start to return to 2015-2016 levels in 2019," he said.
Installing 1,393MW of PV in Q2 2015, US Solar Market Surpasses 20GW
Continuing on its record-breaking trajectory, the United States solar industry surpassed 20 gigawatts of total operational solar photovoltaic capacity during the second quarter of this year. According to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association’s Q2 2015 U.S. Solar Market Insight report, the U.S. installed 1,393 megawatts of PV last quarter, showcasing both annual and quarterly growth.
Source: GTM Research/SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight
The residential solar market set yet another quarterly record in the second quarter. With 473 megawatts installed, the segment grew 70 percent year-over-year. On top of that, the residential market is diversifying, with 10 states each installing more than 10 megawatts in the quarter. This shows significant growth from the same quarter of 2013 when only four states installed that much residential solar.
The non-residential market finished the quarter down 33 percent from the same period last year. However, the ongoing growth of community solar across the U.S., along with improving market dynamics in several states and continued financial innovation, suggest stronger growth in this segment in the second half of 2015 and beyond.
According to the report, 729 megawatts of utility-scale solar PV came on-line in the second quarter of the year, representing more than half (52 percent) of the nation’s quarterly total. With the federal solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) scheduled to drop at the end of 2016, utility-scale development is at an all-time high with more than 5 gigawatts of capacity currently under construction.
“The utility PV market continues to be the bedrock driver of new installation growth. And in the second half of this year through 2016, growth will reach new heights as a higher share of what comes on-line stems from projects procured purely based on centralized solar’s cost-competitiveness,” said Shayle Kann, senior vice president at GTM Research.
The U.S. installed 2.7 gigawatts of PV in the first six months of 2015. With significant growth expected in the second half of the year, the U.S. is on pace for a record-breaking 7.7-gigawatt year.
“The demand for solar energy is now higher than ever, and this report spells out how crucial it is for America to maintain smart, effective, forward-looking public policies, like the ITC, beyond 2016,” said Rhone Resch, SEIA president and CEO. “At over 20 gigawatts of installed solar electric capacity, we now have enough solar in the U.S. to power 4.6 million homes, reducing harmful carbon emissions by more than 25 million metric tons a year. Since the ITC was passed in 2006, U.S. solar growth has exploded and more than 150,000 American solar jobs have been created. By any measurement, that’s a success for both our economy and environment.”
More Key Findings:
The U.S. installed 1,393 megawatts of solar PV in Q2 2015, marking the seventh consecutive quarter in which the U.S. added more than 1 gigawatt of PV installations.
Q2 2015 was a milestone quarter for the U.S. solar PV market, with cumulative installations eclipsing the 20-gigawatt mark.
Throughout the first half of 2015, 40 percent of all new electric generating capacity brought on-line in the U.S. came from solar.
21 states have now added more than 100 megawatts of solar PV, but the top five states still account for nearly three-fourths of cumulative U.S. PV installations.
40 percent of the 16.6-gigawatt utility PV pipeline in development has been procured primarily due to solar’s economic competitiveness with fossil-fuel alternatives.
We forecast that PV installations will reach 7.7 gigawatts in 2015, up 24 percent over 2014. Growth will occur in all segments, but will be strongest in the residential market.
For more information, visit http://www.greentechmedia.com/research/ussmi