by Laura Combs, ESL Business Development Director

For those considering investing in solar energy for their business, non-profit or home, really thinking about and understanding what solar panels can do for you can be confusing. If you are like I was, you think that solar energy is a great idea but you can’t quite see how it actually benefits you financially. Few people are fluent in kilowatts (kW), kilowatt hours (kWh), demand charges and other energy terms, and most of us definitely don’t think about them every day or even once a year. They are something reported on our electricity bills to be glanced over as we get to the bottom line. But they matter!

Your Bill

While most of us just focus on the final figure, it’s important to understand the terms.

For residential, it’s relatively easy. We are assessed fixed charges (monthly fee or rider – most frequently a REPS or Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard rider) and the variable or volume charge, which relates to the amount of energy you use and is shown as kilowatt hours on your bill. Kilowatt hours can vary dramatically month-to-month depending on how much energy your house consumes. You can see a sample residential Duke Energy bill here: Reading Your Residential Bill. We encourage all of our customers to read their applicable rate schedule (an explanation of fixed and variable charges), which you can view here: North Carolina Index of Rate Schedules. Dividing the total amount of the bill by the number of kilowatt hours used will give you the “blended” rate of what you pay; it is a blend of the fixed and kilowatt hour cost.  Keep in mind that your fixed rates are going to stay the same each month (unless the Utility Commission allows Duke to change them), and your kilowatt hour use will vary based on what you actually use. The blended rate serves as the baseline when determining how solar energy offsets your monthly electricity charges.

Commercial customer’s bills are more complicated because the utility assesses the fixed charges, the variable kilowatt hour charge, as well as a “demand” charge. The demand charge is the fee determined by the highest amount of power drawn from the grid during any interval (typically 15 minutes) during the billing period. A sample Duke Energy bill is here: Reading Your Business Bill.

For some commercial rates, such as Medium General Service (MGS), kilowatt hour costs are fixed/not variable ($.0706 per kWh), and the same for the demand charge ($5.86 per kW).

The rate is tiered for some types of customers, such as Small General Service (SGS), which is the rate for many small churches. This means that the more kilowatt hours that you use, the lower the cost per kilowatt hour. For example, for SGS the first 750 kWh is the most expensive at over $.10 per kWh, but the price drops as more kilowatt hours are consumed. And there are even more complicated rate structures!

Don’t worry about understanding it all now - we can help you figure it out. But understanding how you are charged for energy at home and at your business can help you understand how to reduce your costs.  Solar is one such way - so how does it do that?

The Solar Panel

Let’s start at the solar energy baseline – the solar panel. Solar panel output is measured in watts (W). A premium, new, fixed solar panel produces between 300W and 400W per hour, depending on the manufacturer, the model, the location and the weather. North Carolina averages about 4.5 hours of peak, usable solar energy per day. If your home or business is unshaded and the panels are facing south and weather conditions are optimal, a panel will produce approximately 1.4kWh per day for every solar panel installed.

Another way to think about it is in kilowatts – which is the measurement that you find on your business account bill. A 10kW solar panel system (between 25-35 panels depending on the manufacturer) will produce about 14,000 kWh a year. A good rule of thumb is that for every kilowatt of solar you install in North Carolina, approximately 1,400 kWh are generated with ideal conditions. A kilowatt hour production estimate for your system, worthy of another blog post, is based on weather data coupled with technical data of the specific panel, as well as the orientation of the building. The estimate is critical to understanding how a solar energy system will impact your bill.

Net Metering

Fortunately for everyone, the North Carolina Utilities Commission requires Net Metering from Duke Energy, as it has been shown to benefit all customers. Here’s how that works: Let’s say you decide to put a system on your home, place of worship or business, but you are generally out of the building during normal business hours. What happens to those unused kilowatt hours generated by your solar panels?  Because your system is producing kilowatt hours every sunny day, if you are not there to consume them all, the kilowatt hours will flow directly to the electricity grid! This is where Net Metering comes into the equation. Net metering can get a bit complicated, but at its most basic, it describes a billing mechanism between a utility and a customer who is self-generating power. It involves a bi-directional meter that registers when 1) a customer consumes utility grid-supplied power and 2) when their self-generating system is supplying power back to the grid. When the meter is spinning backwards (Yay!) utilities will often credit solar customers for these kilowatt hours at the retail rate, which is the same rate at which you purchase it.

Putting it All Together

Energy use by homes and businesses can vary for a number of reasons, and as we discussed, rate structures for businesses add another layer of complication. We do know that when you install solar, you may purchase significantly less kilowatt hours from Duke Energy and, therefore, save money!

If you have a business that primarily operates during the day, you will also see a reduction in your peak demand charge because your solar panels will be producing and offsetting your maximum energy draw from the utility grid. A school, for example, can see upwards of a 30% reduction in its demand charges because the school’s peak demand is likely when the sun is producing!

If your business has a fairly constant load or demand that is higher in the evening - think hotels/hospitals - or facilities that operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week - solar is not going to have a dramatic impact on demand because your “peak demand” may be at a time when the solar panels aren’t producing and are unable to offset your power draw from the grid. That said, you will likely be able to take advantage of net metering and your system will pay for itself and save you money.

In summary, every kilowatt hour matters! Before investing in solar technology, we recommend reducing your energy consumption. Harvard University has great recommendations here: Top 5 Steps to Reduce Your Energy Consumption. When you are ready to invest in your own green energy power plant, we are here to help you think through your choices.

If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out. Thank you for reading!

Laura Combs

lcombs@eaglesolarandlight.com and (919) 275-2245

Laura Combs is Eagle Solar & Light’s Business Development Director in North Carolina. She has a Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning, with a specialty in Environmental Planning. Laura is a former environmental non-profit employee who worked to recover the endangered Florida manatee, is very aware of the need for maintaining slim overhead and maximizing funds, and she is very grateful to bring her knowledge and skills to Eagle Solar & Light and its customers.

Solar Planning by Laura Combs

While the world is pausing to wait out Covid-19, those of us not on the front lines have time to think a bit more deeply about our next steps. And it seems that the Earth is getting a bit of a breather too. Interestingly, here is the European Space Agency’s video compilation showing the changing air pollution levels in China this year:

Nitrogen Dioxide Emissions December 20, 2019 - March 16, 2020.

While many people are working from home and thinking about how to improve or retool their businesses,  churches, schools or non-profits, this is a good time to take a look at solar and how it can save you money, increase resilience, and reduce your carbon footprint to help decrease the impact as seen in the Space Agency’s video.

Churches, Non-Profits and Schools

North Carolina adopted a law (HB 589) in 2017 that created a solar rebate and clarified the rules around third-party leasing. The rebate can be up to $75,000 depending on the system size and can be applied to a solar lease or a purchase. Duke Energy customers such as churches, nonprofits, and other tax-exempt entities like schools and municipalities, can take advantage the rebates until 2023.

Choosing whether to lease or purchase a solar system is guided by the individual analysis of each organization’s financial goals. Leasing, when coupled with the Rebate, is generally the preferred financial option for tax-exempt organizations because it does not require significant additional resources outside of the operational budget. Organizations love the hassle-free leasing option because Eagle Solar is responsible for the operations and maintenance during the lease term!

Companies

Companies can take advantage of the Rebate, but the program is first come, first served and the designated rebate amount is claimed within hours of being made available in January of each year due to intense corporate demand. Fortunately, businesses often choose to go green without the Rebate as the financials of solar still compare favorably!

There are several reasons for this, and a critical piece of those factors are the tax incentives for businesses. The federal government created an incentive to make solar purchasing easier via the federal Investment Tax Credit, or ITC, as well as accelerated depreciation of the asset. These tax incentives can equal up to 50% of the cost of solar installation. Organizations that are considering solar purchases should act in 2020, when the ITC enables them to deduct 26 percent of the cost of installing solar systems. This incentive will be reduced to 22 percent in 2021 and then permanently set at 10 percent in 2022.

If a business does not have the tax liability to fully monetize these tax benefits, a lease, as described above, can be a great option. The business can lease a system from Eagle Solar and immediately get both the financial and environmental benefits of solar without paying the full cost of the system.

Leasing or Purchasing Solar – Which is the right choice?

Eagle Solar performs an in-depth analysis of your organization’s energy use, building orientation and surroundings, and available incentives to help determine whether leasing or purchasing a solar system is most cost effective. We provide that analysis to you, along with our recommendation. {We view our role as solar facilitators- not sellers- as we want to be a trusted advisor.}- So you can expect us to tell you when the system does and does not make financial sense.

When you are ready to see if solar is a fit, please give me a call at (919)275-2245 or email at lcombs@eaglesolarandlight.com.

Wishing you all strong health during these difficult times.

Sincerely,

Laura Combs

 

In an effort to expand access to clean, renewable energy in Alabama, Gasp announced a new partnership with Eagle Solar & Light. Under the agreement, the solar energy company will offer a 5% discount on residential and commercial solar installations to members who join or renew their Gasp membership with a donation of $50 or more.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled to announce this unique partnership with Eagle Solar & Light,” said Gasp Executive Director Michael Hansen. “In order to solve many of the urgent issues facing our state like pollution and climate change, we need to dramatically increase deployment of clean, renewable energy like solar across Alabama.”

Founded in 2009, Gasp is a Birmingham-based nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing air pollution through education and advocacy. Increasing demand for and access to affordable clean energy like solar is a vital part of the group’s work to reduce pollution — including greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fuel based energy.

“We’re proud to partner with a community-based organization like Gasp,” said Eagle Solar & Light Founder Sam Yates. “Solar power is not only the energy of future, it’s also one of the best ways to reduce our impact on the planet because solar panels don’t emit pollution.”

Eagle Solar & Light, also headquartered in Birmingham, was founded in 2016 by Sam Yates. The company is leading provider of modern energy solutions, like solar and LED lighting, in Alabama. The company recently opened an office in North Carolina.

The savings from the discount will help to offset some of Alabama’s anti-solar policy barriers facing homeowners and businesses. With the new partnership, Eagle Solar & Light will also donate a portion of the proceeds from each project back to Gasp.

Gasp is a nonprofit health advocacy organization whose mission is to reduce air pollution through education and advocacy. Our vision is a healthy, just, and sustainable Alabama. We strive to reduce air pollution, to educate the public on the health risks associated with poor air quality and to encourage community leaders to serve as role models for clean air and clean energy development. www.gaspgroup.org

Eagle Solar & Light strives to be the leading modern energy solutions provider for the markets in which we serve. Each member of the ESL team has a commitment to constantly drive a customer-focused approach in all that we do. We are backed by some of the nation’s largest and best distributors, allowing us to provide world-class products and services.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (July 13, 2018) — Daily, it is estimated that over 100,000 people travel Highway 280. Many have likely noticed the highway’s newest neighbor, SouthPoint Bank, in place of the former Kobe restaurant. What they cannot see while driving is the solar power that SouthPoint Bank is harvesting.

Eagle Solar & Light recently installed a 60-kilowatt solar system on the new bank. This system consists of two hundred and eight solar panels, or modules, and is designed to produce over 73,000 kilowatt hours of power annually. Solar power is not only good for the environment; it is also projected to save SouthPoint Bank over $10,000 per year on their utility bill.

“When we began the design process for our new headquarters, we knew this building needed to not only serve our need for space, but also to better our efficiency. Early on we decided to incorporate modern, clean energy technology to decrease our energy costs and make our contribution to environmental sustainability,” says SouthPoint Bank’s CEO Steve Smith. “At SouthPoint Bank, our goal is to look to the future and point forward with continuous improvement in technology. Utilizing solar energy within our corporate headquarters is one step toward achieving that goal.”

The solar panels selected by Eagle Solar & Light are produced in Jackson, Mississippi by Seraphim Solar. The use of American made solar panels defies the trend of using cheaper imported panels. Eagle Solar and Light trusts the quality of Seraphim Solar panels and backs their manufacturer’s 25-year warranty. Other American made components in this system are provided by SolarEdge and Snap’N’Rack.

“We were also able to meet our goal of supporting local companies by using a local contractor Eagle Solar & Light, plus using American solar panels rather than sourcing them from Asia,” says Smith.

“Using American made products means a lot to us and our customers, and that is why whenever possible we source our products from American companies,” says Eagle Solar & Light CEO, Sam Yates. “We strive to meet the goals of every customer we serve.”

As one of the first solar companies to open in the central Alabama region, Eagle Solar & Light provides architecturally advanced, aesthetically designed solar electricity, LED lighting solutions and energy saving products that offer long-term economic benefits.