by William Poleatewich
Let me share some observations from the Selfridge Air National Guard (ANG) Base Energy Expo that Pfister Energy was recently invited to attend. The Base is actively working to reduce its energy costs and, as part of their one-day expo, encouraged regional Ohio and Michigan attendees, both civilian and military, to address the challenges of reducing energy costs and increasing our national energy security. Reducing energy costs at federal facilities is in response to
Selfridge and the military have their priorities right…the first energy-saving dollar to be spent needs to be spent on conservation and energy efficiency measures. In fact, conservation steps should be in place to save energy, and then on-site power generation (also called distributed generation or DG), like solar and wind, is the next step.
Step-by-step to power savings
Just like homes and commercial buildings, Selfridge started with the most obvious energy issue: lighting. Changing outdated fluorescent lights from a T-12 fixture to a T-8 or, better yet, swapping out the old technology with new plug and play technology — best in class T-5’s, can start shrinking electric bills immediately.
Beginning with energy efficient lighting, I was impressed by the step-by-step process that Selfridge ANG Base personnel have taken to improve their energy usage throughout the enormous campus situated just northeast of Detroit:
- Installing energy efficiency lighting by changing incandescent bulbs to CFL’s and upgrading fluorescent fixtures.
- Tightening up the building envelope by sealing all holes in building ‘s exterior walls (and there are a LOT of buildings on the Base!),
- Using expanding foam to fill holes and installing insulating seals (easily available at Lowes or Home Depot) around your receptacles and switches on exterior walls,
- Increasing the insulation in attics and crawlspaces (link Dow, Owen Corning).
- Replacing old, single-pane and leaky windows with Energy Star-rated models,
- Upgrading the efficiency of HVAC systems (see the online DSIRE database to find the heating and cooling efficiency upgrade rebates available in your state for either residential and commercial property owners), and the list continues!
This multi-step approach that Selfridge ANG Base has taken is a model for commercial and industrial businesses. At step 6, when studying how to heat and cool a building more efficiently, THIS is the time to think about a solar thermal water or air heating system. Now that the energy efficiency steps are in place, Selfridge ANG is evaluating distributed generation (“DG”) systems to see which technology will produce the best ROI. Solar thermal, photovoltaics, building integrated PV-thermal (BIPV-T) and geothermal are strong DG options for their location and building construction.
Saving energy is not a military secret
At the Selfridge Energy Expo, in addition to talking to Base personnel about installing solar thermal on their standing seam metal roofs, deploying dual-axis UGE wind turbines, and standalone PV systems, I also talked to a number of show attendees that were inquiring about building-mounted wind turbines and building-integrated solar technologies for their homes. Not surprisingly, most of these professionals had skipped the basic (and, admittedly, pretty unsexy) but beneficial energy efficiency measures and were focusing on the allure and excitement of power generation by wind and solar panels mounted on their roofs or back yards.
For all the building managers out there (residential or commercial), reducing energy consumption goes hand-in-hand with creating power – develop a plan like Selfridge ANG Base did that combines low-tech efficiency and high-tech DG.
With an evaluation by an energy efficiency expert and renewable energy group, any business (or residence) should be able to cut their energy bills and take advantage of the optimal, and more glamorous, sustainable energy sources like solar thermal, solar electric and wind. Have a question about solar thermal, solar energy or combined systems like Building Integrated PV-Thermal (BIPV-T)? Ask away (just type it in below) and we’ll be sure to answer!
Do you know how much of your facility’s energy bill can be attributed to heating domestic hot water, space heating, and process heating? According to the U.S. department of energy, as much as 51% of the average commercial building’s energy costs go towards those end uses with a high percentage related to heating water. Solar thermal water heating (collector systems) can produce hot water for space heating, showers, lavatories and commercial kitchens as well as supplying heated water for sanitation, cleanup, processing, production and manufacturing in all of the facility types listed below:
- Recreation centers, clubs, pools and gyms
- Farming and food processing
- Hospitals, medical clinics, correctional facilities
- Office buildings
- Laundries and dry cleaners
- Car washes
- Hotels, motels and convention/meeting areas
- Apartments and condominiums
What is the solar thermal payback?
As with any heating system, the initial costs of a solar thermal system vary in accordance with the building, location and application. But, as Glenn Meyers – author of the Green Building Elements article – says, the unpredictable nature of energy prices make such installations a valuable long-term investment.
“Some people are discouraged by the U.S. Department of Energy’s claim that it can take a decade to break even,” Meyers wrote. “However, these estimates are based on current energy prices. Energy costs have increased faster than the rate of inflation for the past five years.”
In Bainbridge, Washington, a community pool is using solar thermal to heat the water. Although it just began operations this summer, a representative from the district told the online publication Kitsap Sun that the $27,000 investment will pay for itself in four years. After that, it’s essentially free heat.
At Pfister Energy, our experience mirrors this report. Solar thermal projects, when sized and installed correctly, have an average payback of under five years. When incentives such as tax credits and rebates are available, the ROI can be ratcheted down to 2.5 to 3 years. Again, after that, it’s hot water for free for the life of the system. Depending upon the type of system, ranging from evacuated tube collector panels to a building integrated system, solar thermal systems will produce solar heated water, on a nearly maintenance-free basis, for ten to thirty years.
Is solar thermal for your business?
As long as the sun is shining, businesses with water, process or space heating loads can harvest the financial benefits of solar thermal energy. At Pfister Energy our engineers develop custom solutions for virtually every building type, including flat or sloped roofs, provided the roof is in the sun for a good portion of the day. For those days when the sun isn’t shining, all systems are wired so that the buildings’ primary systems provide backup to the clean, free energy from the sun.
For businesses that are using hot water as part of their facility operations, reducing the cost to heat water can really cool down expenses. Whether your building is focused on manufacturing, processing, recreational or business services, an experienced solar thermal expert can review your needs, calculate the ROI and recommend the best type of solar thermal system for the location and facility.
Does your business heat a lot of hot water or liquid? Have you ever considered putting your roof to work to reduce or eliminate power costs attributed to water heating? It can be done!
Like many other states in the country, New Jersey is charging forward with renewable energy initiatives, offering lucrative benefits for those wishing to adopt alternative energy sources to offset their business’s electricity consumption. In New Jersey, solar, landfill gas, biomass CHP/cogeneration, anaerobic digestion and renewable fuel cells are all eligible for state incentive programs.
When most people think of renewable energy incentives, they think of solar electric systems — also known as photovoltaics or PV. However, unlike Florida, photovoltaic (PV) installations in NJ are not eligible for state incentives like credits or rebates. However, they are eligible for solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs) which pay a market price-driven dividend from the utility while the system is in operation. Recently awarded Governor Christie’s signature, the state legislature has passed a measure that would reenergize the state’s solar industry and potentially increase the value of solar credits, now lingering in the low $100’s. If you’re interested in solar thermal or solar electric for your business, stay tuned! And, keep in mind that, according to the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE), all system sizes installed in NJ are eligible, but they must be grid-connected to the distribution system.
While the most popular program is solar, there are plenty of other state incentives for you to consider! There are a few requirements, rules and regulations that renewable energy users must abide by to qualify for the programs. “Generally, systems and components must be new, in compliance with all applicable performance and safety standards, and must carry a minimum five year all inclusive warranty,” says the DSIRE New Jersey page.
Biomass, Fuel Cell and CHP Systems
Biomass and fuel cell systems are eligible for rebates, but if the system that you are planning to install combines both heat and power (CHP), you can get even more money back.
- A biomass or fuel cell system can earn back $2.00 per watt for the first 500 kW. For the next 500kW, users receive $1.00 back per watt. This can total up to quite a bit of rebate money back to the user but rebates are currently capped at 30 percent of the installation costs.
- Biomass and fuel cell systems that include CHP can earn users back $3.00 per watt for the first 500kW and $2.00 per watt for the next 500 kW. For Combined Heat and Power systems, the state incentive increases to cap at 40 percent of installed costs.
Wind Energy Systems
New Jersey has quite a few wind turbines located throughout the state, especially along the coastline. Utility-scale offshore wind projects are in the pipeline but have a long development time. Unfortunately for business owners that would like to add turbines to the roof or property in New Jersey, wind incentives have disappeared. Under previous legislation, owners of wind energy systems received
- rebates based on expected energy output based on factors including turbine size and the average wind speed of a turbine’s location.
- $3.20 per kWh for the first 16,000 kWh and $0.50 from 16,000 kWh until 1,000,000 kWh. Once again, this is based on projected output.
While New Jersey wind incentives are currently suspended, the old numbers are still important as state officials are currently reworking and evaluating the efficacy of prior wind programs to determine if a similar program is advantageous to the state. Bottom line, check out the DSIRE site regularly to see if there are any updates.
Renewable Energy Incentives Leadership
For years, New Jersey has led the East Coast in renewable energy development for both residential and commercial markets. Government officials want to boost the jobs and economy, protect the Garden State’s environment, and they want its residents to enjoy the benefits of renewable energy while saving money in the process. The best way to bridge the gap between the adoption of new, leading edge technology and the price tag, is to offer a continuous and financially-sound mechanism for purchase, installation and maintenance.
If you’re a New Jersey business owner or facility manager, did you install a PV system before the state SREC market became saturated and crashed? Have you considered other renewable energy technologies that are incentivized by the state?