The question isn’t, “Are renewables right for me?” Rather, the question is, “Which renewables are right for me?” Renewables have always been a good way to go green and achive energy independence, but now homeowners finally have affordable options to get green power. Sure, incentives and tax credits have come and gone over the last 35 years, but now the technology is not only widely available, it usually makes great financial sense, no matter what incentives are, or are not available. The biggest current incentive for renewables is a Federal Tax Credit up to 30 percent of the total project cost. It’s on the books until at least 2016, so even if no other major incentives become available over the next decade, some form of renewable energy is right for you.
So again, the question is, “Which renewable?” Close attention should be paid to the type of structure being provided with renewable energy. For virtually every application there is a renewable solution. From garages and greenhouses to homes and buildings, there will likely be a preferred system type that fits best. Renewables do best at providing either heat or electricity. This is certainly the most important distinction to be familiar with. Determining what the structure needs most will help guide consumers into the right direction. For electricity, technologies like photovoltaics (PV), wind, and micro-hydro are typically the three main choices. For heating, technologies like solar thermal (including space heat and hot water), bio-mass heating and geothermal are the three main choices.
However, before the specific technology can be chosen, the choice between heat and electricity can be a challenge. The most obvious is the amount of money spent on each of these two utilities. Some homeowners use more electricity than others and some use heating fuels more than others. Many people in northern Colorado use electricity for heat, which then muddies the water even further. The inefficiencies of conventional equipment are often the culprit of high utility bills. Therefore, some attention should be paid to possibly upgrading existing equipment. Pairing conventional equipment upgrades with a renewable energy system is often the smartest choice a consumer can make, but don’t expect that renewables will cover 100 percent of electric or heating bills. While the goal is to make the renewable system the primary source of heat or electricity, there should always be some sort of conventional equipment in place to serve as back-up should weather conditions turn unfavorable.
Typically, structures heated with electricity would use PV technology to offset electric consumption. Yet a lot of electricity is also spent on things other than heating, which may also necessitate the choice of PV as well. For structures heated with hydronics (baseboard and radiant), the better choice is typically going to be Solar Thermal. However, there are many crossover scenarios that may dictate a different technology. Bio-mass heating (like pellet and wood stoves) can also be a great option for space heating. Unfortunately it hasn’t been until recent years that the technology has improved to the point that makes this technology on par with the efficiencies of other forms of renewables. Wind power has been a point of contention for some local residents. It can often be a great way to offset electric consumption but is certainly one of the more constrained options due to weather patterns and local building requirements.
Understanding a structures needs and matching it with the right renewable is one challenge, finding the right company to do the installation and maintenance is another. With the growing popularity of renewables there has also come unqualified contractors. Unfortunately, the bigger that incentives have become, so have the number of fly-by-night renewable installers, manufacturers and designers. Homeowners should take special care to choose a company that is not only reputable, but also one that can give them a multitude of choices in terms of system types, designs, and manufacturers. The best place to start choosing a company is by reputation and experience, but referrals are also just as effective. Talk to friends and neighbors to find out their experiences with various contractors and try to get two bids, but no more because it will only become confusing. Make sure the contractors are licensed and insured. Ask to see similar pictures of what the installation will look like before signing the contract. NABCEP, COSEIA, NFI, ICC and other certifications aren’t a must, but are definitely preferred. Look for companies that have an actual place of business to visit because their garage or the back of their truck doesn’t cut it. Don’t be fooled by fancy websites and clever salesmen who are aggressive or inexperienced. An honest company will rarely ask you to sign contracts upon first contact.
On Saturday, May 15, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Allenspark Fire Station, there will be a renewable energy workshop put on by representatives from Mile Hi Solar, LLC (Loveland) to discuss the issues facing homeowners when they are seeking the “right renewable for them.” This is not a sales pitch, nor is it designed for “do it yourselfers” looking to learn how to install systems. It is meant to help homeowners become savvy renewable consumers. Admission is free and open to the public, so seating may be limited. Speakers will include the owner of MHS, their lead PV engineer, and their lead project coordinator.