How To Switch Your Home Or Business To Renewable Energy
Renewable energy, also commonly referred to as “soft” or “clean” energy, is any naturally occurring, inexhaustible source of energy. Common examples today are biomass, hydroelectric power, geothermal, wind, and solar. I could spend hours describing each method but that is a blog for another day! There are advantages and disadvantages to each different source of renewable energy, but they all share one common goal: when these methods are used to create energy, they emit virtually no CO2 (carbon dioxide). AKA they are not harming the environment.
Most of us understand the upside of choosing renewable over harmful, potentially dangerous nonrenewable energy like gas, coal, oil, and nuclear. The question is, how do I put my money where my mouth is? In reality, most of the energy all of us consume in the US is generated from nonrenewable resources. The EIA (Energy Information Administration) says that only 10% of total US energy consumption was from renewable energy sources in 2015. But don’t take my word for it, check out their stats here.
To increase the consumption of renewable energy we need to demand more renewables. And I don’t mean demand with our mouths (although that won’t hurt). I mean demand with our wallets. The more renewable energy we purchase, the greater pressure that puts on existing power plants across the US to start generating it. It will also encourage companies to open new power plants dedicated to renewable production. For all you Economic Majors out there it is a classic example of supply and demand.
On an individual and commercial level, there are many incentives to generate your own renewable power these include a 25% income tax credit off the system cost and other property tax exemptions.
Under NY-Sun, there are programs to help business owners, property owners, and even renters and schools afford a solar installation. New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) offers a small wind turbine program for those New York citizens that build a wind generated energy source. The incentives are based on the expected annual energy output (AEO), although they cannot exceed 50% of the total system cost. While you might hope that generating your electricity would take you “off the grid”, unfortunately you still need to connect your power source to the grid to receive these incentives.
While the state makes transitioning to renewable energy seem easy, there are definitely limitations to being qualified for these programs such as the size and quality of your residence. Physically, solar panels require quite a bit of space and a strong base to hold their weight. Micro wind turbines are a far more affordable option that requires less space, but also generates less energy. There are also many other renewable options such as hydro, biomass, and geothermal, but these are far less feasible for personal use given the terrain in the large part of New York City.
When first considering switching to renewable, it is important to weigh the cost to the benefit. The upfront cost for solar panels is between $20-50,000, but of course can provide a very high ROI since many panels have a 25 year warranty. Residential micro wind turbines can cost even below $1000 and provide a quick ROI, but usually have a shorter life-span and are used as a supplement to energy because they output less than solar can on a micro level. As wind turbines grow in size, they of course increase in price and kW output, but also require much more space than solar comparatively.
Many solar and wind installers have moved forward with individual projects to promote “net-zero” living- where all energy demand can be met with the renewable installations. While this is not affordable to all, there are projects that are scaling quickly throughout the state to mobilize the community to share not only solar panels, but also microgrid projects.
The Brooklyn Microgrid was started in Park Slope, Gowanus, and Boerum Hill with a network of solar panel owners, to provide their residual energy to their neighbors. They will be installing their own meters and distributing shares based on a peer-to-peer marketplace. While there are local projects to promote renewables, the state also has millions of dollars allocated to the growth of renewable energy sourcing.
Jan 2017, New York state has just approved America’s largest offshore wind farm off the coast of Long Island. This South Fork Wind Farm has the ability to house 200 wind turbines many of which will produce more than 1 MW and should be started as early as 2019.
All renewable or non-renewable energy sources feed back, however, into the current maintained grid to supply energy to you by default, however anyone who receives an energy bill has the power to choose where their energy comes from.
There are two pieces of good news. First, many local governments are making a serious effort t
o promote the expansion of renewable energy. And second, if you are interested in using renewable energy to power your home or business, but you don’t have the time or money to jerry-rig a windmill on to the side of your studio apartment, you have the power to do so.
Let’s zoom in on Phoenix Energy’s home state of New York. Governor Cuomo announced the most comprehensive and ambitious clean energy goal in the State’s history in 2016. Under his Renewable Energy Vision (REV) he has unrolled the Clean Energy Standard (CES). The CES requires that 50% of New York’s electricity come from renewable energy sources by 2030. It’s described in detail right here: https://www.nyserda.ny.gov/All-Programs/Programs/Clean-Energy-Standard.
The plan has a phase-in schedule starting this year! The CES implements two mandates that will ignite the demand for renewable energy. Every Load Serving Entity (LSE) in New York is now required to purchase Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) for their retail customers. If an entity cannot meet this obligation it must make Alternative Compliance Payments (ACPs). The CES also requires LSEs to purchase Zero Emission Credits (ZECs) from NYSERDA.
There are a lot of acronyms packed into that paragraph so let me elaborate. An LSE is essentially a utility company. A REC is a credit purchased on behalf of a megawatt-hour of electricity produced from renewable generation. The physical electricity we receive through our local utility grid cannot be tracked to a specific source of generation; the electricity on the grid is gathered from hundreds of different generation facilities. RECs allow you to track and assign ownership to electricity generation. Purchasing a REC is basically saying I want the electricity I am using to come from a specific renewable source. Check out the EPA’s website if I did not do that explanation justice https://www.epa.gov/greenpower/renewable-energy-certificates-recs.
And a ZEC is the same thing as a REC but it applies to nuclear plants. This is because Nuclear has zero carbon emissions but it is not a renewable resource, and it therefore gets its own category.
As you can see New York has got the ball rolling. It mandates utilities to increase the demand for renewable energy. Customers like you and me are not forced to choose renewable. But we can contribute to the demand for renewables as well. Bringing me back to my second piece of good news. We can choose where our electricity is coming from, all we have to do is purchase the RECs I just explained above. RECs may be bought to offset your carbon emissions. There are many suppliers in New York that offer REC purchasing. Make sure when you are looking for a supplier they offer Green-E certified RECs. We choose 100% wind energy at Phoenix to offset all of our energy procurement.
The future of the planet depends on reducing our carbon footprint so take action by choosing your own supplier. Learn the steps to decide who to use here!