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10 Solar Energy Organizations – How They Can Help You

If you're considering a solar intsallation for your home or business, it's probable that you will do some research before taking the plunge. Afterall, it's likely to be a sizeable investment, so even if you're already pretty sure of what you want you may want to see what all the options are first. This may involve some basic web browsing, followed by a visit from a local solar contractor (or two). Or you may want to dig deeper yourself and do more extensive research before talking to anyone.

Although using the sun's energy is an idea that has been around since mankind evolved, it can be argued that the huge solar industry as we know it today grew out of a demand for energy alternatives after the oil embargo of the early 1970's and the further oil crises of later that decade. The challenge back then, and it is still somewhat the case today, was to convince a wary public that solar technologies are cost-effective – that they work & are worth the money! Afterall, an alternative energy source is only truly 'alternative' if it can deliver largely the same level of energy for around the same or less investment. 

Like the computer industry during the 80’s and 90’s, the solar industry is going through huge and rapid change and evolution on a worldwide basis. These developments can make any research into the solar field a daunting task. New companies are formed daily, others seem to disappear quickly, and it can be difficult to know who to listen to & who to steer clear of. 

The following groups, in addition to the resources of, make for a great jumping off point in any solar power research. They are a rich source of techincal and commercial information, and can offer great reassurance to you as a consumer that the solar path is a viable alternaive to the utility company you currently use. Not to mention a much more economical option. 

NREL LogoNREL – These guys are a essentailly a huge US Government lab – it stands for National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is the main lab for the US Department of Energy's research and development programs. They research renewable energy all day long, and are a great source for background study, not only for solar but all areas of alternative energy solutions, providing unbiased insights into solar technologies.

Dsire solarDsire – This is the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy. If you're interested in what incentives the various utility companies around the USA are offering to people looking at investing in solar products, check out DSIRE's website here. There are also useful links to other State incentives, and some local government funds which become available from time to time. It's an ever-changing landscape, so check back often during your solar adventure!

SRCC_Logo.gifSRCC - The Solar Rating and Certification Corporation (SRCC) was established to set national ratings standards for solar products. It is a non-profit corporation with the goal of certifying solar thermal products independently. These specifically include solar collector panels for domestic and commercial solar hot water and pool heating systems.

ASESASES - ASES is the American Solar Energy Society – another non-profit group who's mission is “to inspire an era of energy innovation and speed the transition to a sustainable energy economy.” They advance education, research and influence national solar energy polices through work with political organizations in Washington DC.


The Solar Foundation provides some great research tools and educational links – their goal as a non-profit is education, research and market transformation, all associated wih solar energy projects. 

SEPAIf you want to get a handle on how utility companies view solar strategies and make them part of the long-term plan for their business, check out SEPA's site. The utilities are under increasing pressure as the solar industry grows, and some are handling the competition better than others!

SEIA logoThe SEIA – Solar Energy Industry Association – is another non-profit that works to develop the business of solar energy in the USA. With over 1000 companies as members and growing, they provide a wealth of research data including a quarterly Solar-Market Insight report. Although this is probably more of a solar-trade group, you may find some useful data here which can help you when you begin talking with a local solar contractor

Greentech MediaFor up-to-the minute information, check out Greentech Media's site for current market & policy information. There's a bunch of good news articles, and many reviews of solar companies and products. 

PV TechPV Tech are a UK-based company who comment on the international solar industry and offer product reviews & analysis of solar photo-voltaic tech companies.

Solar decathalonAnd finally, this is more for fun than research: If you're looking for a challenge for a college team or class, check out the government's Solar Energy Decathlon – a great annual event that asks the participants to blend appeal, affordability & design with the best energy production and efficiency.

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Military Solar Installations - Your Chance To Invest!

Fort Dixon EntranceAug 2013. The US Department of Defense spends around $20,000,000,000 annually...on energy alone. This is a pretty shocking sum - $20 BILLION for the light bill. Ok, they power a few things besides lights, such as major radar installations and satellite infrastructure systems, not to mention accommodation and training facilities for some 1.4 million personnel. But still. $20 Billion. Their annual energy budget is bigger than any other organization – in the world.

So we're in the 21st century, and everyone is looking to alternative 'green' energy sources, where the top-dog is solar energy. And as with any technology, it needs to be purchased before you get the benefits.

Mosaic LogoThis is where Mosaic gets involved. Their model is to raise crowd-funded investment money to buy solar power installations, then sell the generated power to the installation customer (for less than they pay their utility company). The money generated is used to repay the investors – each monthly payment includes a small portion of the principal, and some interest – currently in the 4% to 6% range, repayable over about 9 or 10 years. Neat idea.

Mosaic started with small, non-military installations, and now has several fully funded projects running, all repaying the investors on time each month with interest. Some are pretty big, including an apartment complex in Gainesville, Florida at 251 kW, and a 662 kW charter school in California. However, Mosaic have turned their eye to a huge 12.3 mega watt $35 million installation at Fort Dix, New Jersey.

Solar Installation CaliforniaThis will involve the installation of more than 55,000 solar panels across 550 properties, mostly houses. The upside for the military is to inflation-proof themselves against ever-increasing utility costs, getting a lower electrical rate immediately and locking it there for 30 years or more.

Little can go wrong with a solar panel, and once installed it will typically keep producing electricity at high rates for over 3 decades, so solar investments with a return in the 8 to 10 year range are a reasonably safe bet. Probably not the highest return you could get on your money, but pretty solid.

The success of the Fort Dix project will catapult Mosaic into the big leagues, and set the stage for monumental growth. And based on their track record to date, the future looks rosy. 

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Massachusetts Utility Company gets a Slapping!

Plymouth RockPlymouth, Massachusetts, located to the South East of Boston on the Atlantic coast, and famous for the landing site of the mayflower Pilgrims. The school district there turned some of their focus away from the history books and looked to the future with solar power. As the utility companies continue to gouge residents and businesses alike, no-one is safe from ever-increasing energy costs. Unless they choose an alternative.

The Plymouth school system did just that, saying 'enough is enough' to utility provider Nstar and green-lighting a solar farm in Plympton. The project is huge – almost 24,000 solar panels set to deliver around 5.57 megawatts of power. But the upside for the schools is huge too – a saving of over $½ million per year.

In addition, a second solar farm at Freetown will deliver about half the Plympton site's power, saving another $¼ million per year, while Plymouth North High School is flooding their roof with 1300 solar panels and will bank the savings for decades to come.

It's yet another wake-up call for the monopolistic utility companies, who's only contribution to these projects was to try to block the connection of the farms to the power grid – so the town just moved them to a different site.

TVA LogoMeanwhile the Tennessee Valley Authority is flexing it's muscle at the expense of local businesses and homeowners. Easy to do when you have no competition. In a similar move to Florida Power & Light, they issue an annual, relatively small incentive program, and the first users to grab the loot get the benefit of the rebate program. Sounds generous, right?

FPL LogoBut why do the Big Utility companies do this? The motive behind the program is a little more devious than you may first think. Imagine you're in a utility area that provides an annual limited incentive to install solar, and you've decided that you want to put a 10kW system on your home. You've done all the research, narrowed down the installers to the the one you like, chosen the products and the best solution for you. Now you're ready. But you don't proceed.

You'll wait until the incentive is available from Big Utility, and then join in the mad rush to grab the loot. Good for you if you get it, and you give your contractor the green light to install.

However, most of the other people that don't get any incentive cash now feel like they'll be paying 'over' for their solar system, so they decide to wait until the next incentive round, probably next year. They are so 'used' to paying their hard earned cash to the electric company every month that it seems 'ok' to just carry on doing it.

DC Capitol BuildingThis is great for Big Utility, because they keep banking your check every month, year after year. Not so great for you, the solar contractors, or anyone else in the renewable energy world. It's a simple case of bullying – the utility giants using their colossal cash flow (your money) to effectively strangle the growth of the solar trade. Want to dig a little deeper? Do some searches on how much the utilities pay to Washington lobbyists – you'll be staggered by the amounts of cash, and why. The writing is on the wall for Big Utility, but all those high paid executives certainly won't go without a fight.

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Utility Companies' Free Ride Coming to an End Soon?

Utility logoExorbitant Director's salaries, bonuses, benefits, use of company vehicles and padded parachute clauses for senior VP's and CEO's. This is typical for the corporate world, but not many people realize how prevalent it is in Utility Companies nationwide. But wait, aren't they supposed to be regulated, not-for-profit type organizations? Ah ha. As an example, small local utility company JEA of Jacksonville, Florida, have a CEO Paul McElroy who enjoys $381,000 base salary, plus bonuses and benefits bumping this up by around another $100,000. This is shockingly high pay. Your utility company executives' earnings are supposed to public knowledge – go to the web and try to find the details. Or funnier still, call the utility and ask for the information, see how far you get.

If a corporation hits a bad spot and profits are lowered, they need to take action such as freezing bonuses, cutting overheads, selling equipment, potentially laying off employees. It's how they keep trading, so they can carry on competing for your business. Despite a growing population nationwide, some utility companies are in slow growth or even reducing markets, such as the Midwest and some depressed parts of the industrial Northeast. But when a utility company's market is reduced, the board of directors simply ask their regulators (usually the State or City governors) to be allowed to raise their billing rates. In other words, instead of being forced to compete with other utility companies for your business, they have a monopoly backed by the government, to bill you whatever they want! Nice!

Well, the gravy train is coming to an end.

Utility company power linesThe growth of the solar industry is slowly but surely eating away at the utility companies' monopoly. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, The next 5 years will see a noticeable burden placed on those customers still buying their electricity from the power companies. At some point, the burden will be too much and we'll see a snowball effect as ever more residences and businesses move to alternative energy sources like solar, and the utility companies start to crumble.

Like any cornered animal, the utilities (specifically their highly paid executives) will fight back. In Idaho and Louisiana utility companies tried to penalize customers who installed solar systems, a move that was slapped down. In Arizona, the power company is trying to reduce the money it credits to people with solar systems – a spectacularly silly move, trying to say that their electricity is somehow more valuable than the customer's. Come on.

Electric meterIt's possible that many utility companies will be privatized in the future. If this happens, most of the current executives will doubtless be forced out. Probably replaced with officers who know how to operate in the business world and provide a competitively priced product to the consumer. All thanks to solar energy.

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Solar Power for Non-Profits

Federal grant money is available for "solar power for non-profits" and other state and tribal organizations. Additional funding opportunities are available as well but solar panel installation programs do vary from state to state. A substantial federal grant available for non-profits is called the High Energy Cost Grant Program offered by the United States Department of Agriculture. Non-profit agencies that engage in the construction of solar panels and other renewable energy sources are eligible.

High Energy Cost Grant Program

Non-profit agencies, some commercial entities and residences as well as local, state and tribal governments can apply for the High Energy Cost Grant Program. Solar panel installation as well as other eligible projects involving wind, biomass, hydroelectric power, and energy efficiency initiatives may be eligible. Applicants must reside in communities where energy costs are 275% or more than the national average and admin costs for grant proposals cannot exceed 4% of requested funds. Applications must also demonstrate how their planned projects will benefit the surrounding community as a whole.

Funding Levels and Application

The amount awarded will depend upon the exact nature and scope of the individual project. For 2013, High Energy Cost Grants range from $50,000 up to $3 million. Funding available for 2013 totals over $7.7 million. To apply, eligible parties must respond to USDA Notices of Funding Availability published in the Federal Register and at Applications should include narrative proposals composed in accordance with the Notice's forms, certifications and supporting documentation.