There are huge benefits from both geothermal and solar-generated power; both renewable energy technologies offer multiple financial and environmental advantages to the companies who use them. So why are some people trying to turn the two renewable energy systems into a rivalry?
A recent article in Forbes addressed the use of geothermal energy in California, and how it fits into the state’s renewable energy initiatives. According to contributor Ucilia Wang, PV systems are dominating the solar market and geothermal is struggling to keep up.
“The state is big on solar energy generation,” Wang wrote. “It runs incentive programs to encourage rooftop solar installations at homes and businesses. A program launched in 2011 to streamline the process for utilities to buy renewable energy also favors solar, particularly the use of solar panels, because the size of each contract is capped at 20 megawatts. Last year, three geothermal power projects submitted bids under the program, and only one won a contract. During the same time, 235 solar-panel projects vied for power purchase agreements from utilities and 11 reached a deal, more than any other type of renewable sources.”
Wang’s assessment that solar energy systems are more popular than geothermal solutions because of geothermal incentive programs are not as prevalent as traditional solar. Perhaps not! Geothermal systems may be less understood, less visual and the incentives themselves are not as visible.
The truth is, there are several appealing incentives related to geothermal use. In fact, a very quick search of the DSIRE database shows that almost every state has some type of program including those targeted at the industrial and commercial property. In addition, the Geothermal Energy Association (GEA) lists the various tax incentives including federal, residential energy bonds, production tax credits, manufacturing tax credits, renewable energy grants, state level tax and financial incentives and small power and direct use incentives. Bottom line, there are many incentives just like this that improve the value of installing a geothermal system into any commercial or residential building.
Solar electric power or geothermal energy?
Which is better? The real question is, “ Why not both?” If you truly want to take advantage of the power of your environment and maximize efficiencies, we believe that the best strategy is to “stack” multiple renewable energy systems where it makes sense. In the case of geothermal versus solar, does it make sense to use the energy provided by the sun to create power and use the physics of the Earth to heat and cool the building.
What’s the benefit of stacking renewable energy technologies?
By implementing multiple technologies (not limited to just geothermal and PV systems), power consumption is reduced, installation costs are generally lower, investment costs are recouped quicker and your commitment to stewardship and leadership is expanded. As a case in point, the sustainability manager at a US military base recently confirmed that geothermal will best maximize their investment and meet mandated Federal energy efficiency standards. However, the base is not limiting itself to a single solution. Solar thermal and solar electric systems will also be installed to further reduce energy requirements.
Renewable energy is a holistic concept with financial benefits.
If you’re thinking about solar or geothermal, use available local, state and federal incentives for both technologies as part of the overall savings plan and strategy. An audit of your building, power usage, location, and business by a qualified renewable energy specialist will determine if you will benefit from a combination of stacked technologies: geothermal, solar electric, solar thermal, daylighting, and more. Once you understand the many ways you can use energy that already exists (instead of paying for it), it’s hard not to look for new ways to save.
So, while some may promote one form of renewable energy over the other, at Pfister Energy, we see energy consumption and reduction in a new way: instead of a battle between the solutions, we view each building as an opportunity to bundle technologies into one, super solution.
How do you feel about this? Is renewable energy stacking up to be something you or your company has considered? Did you even know that you could install multiple technologies and reduce power consumption to 5% (or less)? Now, that’s an idea that is pretty energizing!
by Tim Bogert
Environmental Stewardship is an ethic of responsible planning and management of resources. This concept is often used in many fields including the environment, economics, health, property, information, and religion, where it is linked to sustainability. Market-driven Environmental Stewardship combines sustainability practices with sound financial models to enable companies and the general population to embrace the use of alternative energy resources such as solar power.
So, what are we are trying to achieve with a renewable energy technology such as solar energy?
Current energy sources such as coal, oil, gas and nuclear power are not a sustainable plan of action especially as our consumption rises. In addition to availability, who isn’t concerned about pollution and our dependence on foreign sources of energy? And, if you’re not aware of the problems of America’s antiquated and overloaded power grid, reliable and consistent delivery of power to your home or business will soon be another major concern.
There is no question that a renewable energy source like solar electric technology is beneficial to the environment when compared to traditional coal burning methods. Energy produced from the sustainable fuel source of the sun means zero carbon emissions AND offsetting (canceling out) pollutants such as carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides and mercury. It’s clean and on-site solar electric (photovoltaic) systems feed the electricity directly to your building reducing your dependency on the grid or foreign energy sources.
Financing Solar Energy
Incentives from federal and state governments, such as the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), accelerated depreciation, rebates and feed in tariffs, allow for the installation of solar energy on your property. These incentives can cover as much as 30% to 80% of the cost of “Going Solar”. The incentives, which vary from state to state, make the cost of renewable energy a viable option for the average business owner. Essentially, environmental stewardship has become market driven because it makes sound economic sense.
As an example, solar energy systems can offer financial returns that can be better than many capital investments made by corporations every day. The return on investment (ROI) can be as little as 2–4 years and will yield an internal rate of return (IRR) in the teens. Financial options specific to renewable energy are also available in the marketplace requiring little or no upfront investment such as Power Purchase Agreements (PPA), Operating Leases and Capital Leases.
All of these programs will reduce costs and provide electric utility savings for over 25 years while reducing the need for power produced on the grid that comes from power plants burning carbon-based fuels such as coal, oil and gas.
Is Market-driven Environmental Stewardship for you?
If you are thinking about renewable energy options for your business, building or complex, Solar (PV) Installation or EPC Contractors in your area should understand exactly what renewable energy incentives are available and how you can qualify. In addition, they should be able to advise you on the financing options that best suit your company’s credit qualifications and tax appetite. Multiple online resources are available to help you too including DSIRE, the database of state incentives for renewable energy , Renewable Energy World, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL) Renewable Energy Finance website.
Do you want to be a leader? Companies and individuals protecting the natural resources of tomorrow are progressive leaders. And, if it selecting distributed energy generation also makes smart financial sense, why not look good while doing good?
Make the right choice. While Solar electric systems (photovoltaics or PV) are the most common type of renewable energy, there are other options such as solar thermal, wind power, daylighting, geothermal and more. These options can be combined with solar electric for even great efficiencies or can be installed in buildings that don’t have the roof style or space for solar (or vacant land to “farm” for the sun). Each sustainable or green technology has environmental and financial benefits that can reduce your perpetually escalating utility costs rate for electricity. Are you ready to cut and stabilize your electric rates with Market-driven Environmental Stewardship?
Missouri University of Science and Technology is preparing to go green by installing a geothermal heat system as a way to conserve energy.
The geothermal heat project, scheduled for a 2014 completion, should cut the school’s energy use in half. While the school’s water usage is expected to decrease by 10 percent, its carbon footprint should be reduced by 25,000 metric tons each year.
Like many renewable energy systems, this project is expected to deliver a high return on investment. Once the system is fully implemented, the school could save up to $2.8 million each year in operational costs, almost three times more than the figure initially projected during project approval in 2010. The savings are expected to give Missouri S&T an opportunity to gain back the costs of the project in a relatively short amount of time.
The system is going to replace the aging coal-fired plant, providing heat to 15 campus buildings and cooling energy to the school’s water system. In a press release, Missouri S&T Chancellor Cheryl B. Schrader spoke about the scope of the project.
“Several campuses have created small-scale geothermal systems to provide energy for a residence hall – or perhaps a few buildings on campus,” Schrader said. “But only a few other campuses in this nation have ever attempted a system on a campus wide scale.”
Construction is scheduled to begin next month, starting with drilling ground-source wells around campus. Approximately 600 wells will need to be drilled in order to serve the three scheduled geothermal plants. For schools looking to increase energy efficiency, renewable energy consulting firms can provide knowledge and installation of environmentally friendly solutions.