Niese Family: “Solar is kind of a family thing”

September 29th, 2014 by ReVision Energy
Niese Family Solar - Pownal, MEPictured right is Kirk Niese and his family, who recently had a 5.6 kw solar electric array installed on their home in Pownal. We talked to Kirk about his passion for renewable energy and how a working Maine family can go solar.

Could you tell us a little bit about your background? How did you get interested in solar?

I first discovered Solar PV in the early 1980′s as a kid and I remember even back then thinking that it was just a clever, no-brainer of an idea environmentally. Throughout college, graduate school and in my early years as a teacher of environmental studies, I developed an interest in sustainable energy production, home heating and fuel efficient transportation which I have held ever since.

I try to ‘walk the walk’ and run a low impact logging business on the side called Niese Forest Works. My students (8th grade science) take a unit on climate change and a separate unit on energy usage that includes having them look at their carbon footprints and investigate energy efficiency/efficient use of natural resources. My brother-in-law works for Pika Energy making wind turbines as well. It’s kind of in the family.

So what pushed you to go from solar enthusiast to solar customer?

Despite my keen interest, solar always seems out of the reach financially until I had the chance to chat with some ReVision folks up at the Common Ground Fair and at the Climate Change Summit in March of 2014. After consulting with ReVision and talking with the folks at Efficiency Maine, I realized that my fears about solar being too expensive for a working family were unfounded. For a little more than the cost of a monthly electricity bill, we could begin a flexible and surprisingly affordable loan payment that allowed us to own our solar PV system. In the short term, it’s very manageable. In the long term, it’s a win/win situation for us and for the planet.

Solar has many benefits beyond the obvious financial and environmental savings. My 8 year old daughter and I now check our kilowatt-hour output on our inverter on a daily basis. Simply knowing what we are capable of producing for electricity makes me want to live within our “electricity means” (for lack of a better term) and act even more conscientiously about reducing our demand for electricity through energy/efficiency upgrades and changes in our behaviors.

How’s the solar project working out so far?

I wish that we had made the decision to purchase PV years ago! Our system is putting out power at its estimated rating and is working flawlessly. I called ReVision once on a curiosity question and had a follow up phone call that was prompt and very helpful. Since our late June 2014 installation, our system has produced nearly 2 megawatts of energy and the banking of energy credits arranged through our utility company (CMP) is working smoothly. In short, ReVision has been a great partner to work with throughout the design and installation portion of the project and I have great confidence in their ability to answer my questions and troubleshoot in the future should the need arise.

Powered by the sun – via panels many miles away

September 26th, 2014 by christine

community-solar-farm-maineFalling prices for solar-electric panels are enticing Mainers who want to install them at their homes. That’s not an option, however, for Jim Atwell, an environmental engineer from Falmouth. He lives in a condominium, and the homeowners’ association won’t allow a solar array on the roof.

But starting next month, Atwell will begin meeting 80 percent of his annual electric demand with solar panels – installed 50 miles away on the roof of an old chicken barn in the Oxford Hills.

Atwell will become one of nine Mainers who are shareholders in the state’s first community solar farm. The farm is a shared solar project that feeds power from the sun into the electric grid. Each member owns a slice of the total power produced and gets a credit on his electric bill. After the initial investment is repaid, the shareholders’ electricity is essentially free.

Atwell’s 12 percent share in the project is costing him roughly $14,000, and he’ll save an estimated $1,100 a year on his bill. That’s a long payback, but money isn’t his primary motivator.

“This is proof of concept, and success will be nine happy customers,” said Fortunat Mueller, co-founder of ReVision Energy in Portland, which is developing the project. “But we’re excited about the long-term market potential. We want to make it easy and repeatable.”

Full article available here:

DownEast Magazine – A drafty saltbox has been remodeled into a cozy and highly energy-efficient home

September 26th, 2014 by christine

king-house-solarSolar technology has come a long way in the past few decades. Built overlooking a pond in Falmouth in the 1970s, this modified passive-solar saltbox was so drafty that “within 45 minutes of the sun setting, the house was cold as stone,” says owner Claudia King. In addition, the interior was dark and cheerless, barely offering a glimpse of the pond and cut off from the 10-acre property’s garden and fields by a scarcity of doors and windows.

King and her husband, Lindsey Tweed, hired Kaplan Thompson Architects and builder Dan Kolbert, both of Portland, to make the house more energy efficient and to improve the interior spaces and flow.

Because the project required gutting the entire structure, it would have cost less to build from scratch, King says, but “we liked our site, we wanted to use what we could, and we didn’t want to build something larger.”

Full article is available here:

Amidst Gloom, Union of Concerned Citizens Report Finds Rosy Future for Solar

September 22nd, 2014 by ReVision Energy

Solar Energy Install on Ocean

In our blog we like to avoid talking about drought, ocean acidification, rising oceans and political gridlock surrounding climate change. Instead, we prefer to focus on solutions, and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) felt the same way in their latest report, Solar Power on the Rise.

The themes found in the UCS report are consistent with our experience in the field, namely:

  • Solar power is increasingly affordable. The cost of a solar PV installation has dropped by roughly 50% since 2005, and now with easy to access solar financing, you can effectively purchase solar for no money at all.
  • Solar power is viable throughout the United States. Maine’s available sunshine is only about 30% less from what you would expect from the same system in Arizona, and is a full 30% more sunny than Germany – the world’s leader in solar adoptions.
  • While solar is already growing organically due to market signals, smart solar friendly policy should be adopted to foster the industry’s continued growth. Namely renewal of tax credits, utility-level standards for clean energy, carbon standards on a federal level, and utilities recognizing the full value of solar. Utilities also need to accept that solar energy is not going anywhere and should change their business models to suit.

A few other factoids:

  • Solar employs more than 140,000 people in the United States (The Solar Foundation 2014).
  • Solar installations increased by more than ten-fold between 2006-2013 (SEIA and Vote Solar 2013).
  • The solar industry is investing almost $15 billion in the U.S. economy annually (GTM Research and SEIA 2014c).

ReVision Energy has been thrilled to be at the frontlines as solar has pushed from a fringe technology to an increasing part of the mainstream, and is equally thrilled to be part of a wild ride in the future as solar adoption accelerates.

Rapid adoption of solar, in combination with supporting technologies like a smarter grid, efficiency measures and distributed energy storage, is the most viable way that exists to thwart the worst effects of climate change, and will generate huge economic opportunity in the doing. Money can stay in working people’s pockets that was previously sent to the utility or spent on fossil fuels. Solar jobs can’t be sent offshore and provide opportunities for tradespeople, office staff, engineers and creative people alike.

A distributed grid is a more resilient grid, giving regions more control over their daily energy needs and providing better stability during natural disasters. There have been plenty of naysayers about solar, but, the proof is in the power – look at the growing number of solar homes throughout the United States, look at the implications of climate change, look at the costs of conventional power, and then look at the rapidly declining costs of solar electricity… and get ready for a solar future!

Further Reading on “Solar Power on the Rise”

This is a great report to send along to friends or family that are still skeptical about solar. Here’s the link: Solar Power on the Rise

And some impressive charts:

Solar Energy Potential in the United States

Solar Energy Resource in the United States

Chart of Falling PV Prices in the United States

Join us at the Common Ground Fair

September 19th, 2014 by ReVision Energy

With the Common Ground Fair coming up (Fri – Sun, Sept 19-21) we thought it was time to re-share with you this video behind-the-scenes of our installation of an 11.7 kw grid-tied solar electric array on their lovingly restored historic barn. You can see the installation in person if you park at MOFGA’s south parking lot and enter the Fair through the Pine Gate.

Our roots are in the Liberty area and the Common Ground Fair feels like homecoming each year, when over 60,000 people come to little ol’ Waldo County to enjoy demonstrations, exhibits, talks, vendors galore and of course tons of delicious food! You’ll find us, per usual, in the Energy & Shelter tent, as well as with MPBN showcasing “The Booth” – our solar powered collaboration with public radio.

The Booth is a StoryCorps-inspired portable recording booth, and will be located next to MPBN’s display at the media area of the fair. You can enter the Booth and record a story, opinion, or viewpoint, which might later be heard on MPBN Radio. While you’re there, you can meet MPBN hosts, talk about your love of public media, and see a little bit of solar at work! The Booth is powered by a 75 watt solar panel and battery provided by ReVision Energy.